A Toronto store is aiming to send a message of diversity and inclusion through its “Black Santa” initiative.
“I was requested by the big man himself that there were some special kids in East York who need to see some representation,” said Allister Thomas, decked out in a Santa Claus outfit as he prepared to meet kids inside Old’s Cool General Store in East York.
Thomas, who is Black and refers to himself as “Black Santa,” has dressed up in red at the store for two seasons.
“To see that excitement. You know, the innocence, the wide-eyed wonder — sure, it’s an awesome feeling.”
Zahra Dhanani, co-owner of the store, said many children haven’t seen themselves in Santa for decades, a growing problem as society becomes more diverse.
“It sends a little message that people who look like them shouldn’t be seen,” Dhanani said. “It sends a message that people who look like them can’t be in those positions too.”
Parents searching for a Santa to whom their children can more easily relate can now turn to an app.
Released in late 2018, Find Black Santa shows Santas who are Black across 35 U.S. states and Washington, D.C., as well as five in Ontario and one in both Alberta and Quebec.
The Dallas psychiatrist who created the app, Jihan Woods, said having appropriate role models is critical for development.
“Specifically for Black children, it’s really important in racial or ethnic identity development that children see figures whether it’s in the media, mythical figures like Santa Claus, because it’s really helpful for their identity development,” she told NBC affiliate WBAL.
For Allister Thomas, it’s a role he is more than happy to fill.
“When you have all that energy coming at you back to back to back, it’s overwhelming,” he said. “I dig that so much.”