Lansing’s Annual Event Highlights Performance With Black Santa | Mitt messages

Michelle Jokisch Polo



Iris and Mishael Freeman visit Santa at the Willow Tree Family Center in Lansing

For many young children, sitting on Santa’s lap and having their picture taken is a cherished tradition. Usually these tours feature a white Kris Kringle, but an event at the Willow Tree Family Center in Lansing shows that Santa Claus can also be black and speak Spanish.

Claretta Freeman took her six year old daughter Iris and her eight year old son Mishael to the Santa Meet & Greet. Iris told Santa that she had been good this year and wanted a Barbie and a dollhouse for Christmas.

“I just hope they know if it’s fantasy [or] let it be history, that they can always see themselves in things and that they can also be important in people’s lives, regardless of their skin tone, ”said Freeman.

Claretta Freeman holds her six-year-old daughter Iris.  Claetta and Iris are both African American.  Claretta Freeman wears a colorful striped mask.

Michelle Jokisch Polo



Claretta Freeman holds her daughter, Iris, at the Black Santa Meet & Greet event in Lansing.

Dio Aldridge disguises himself as St. Nick for the very first time. He says representation for children of color can help broaden their view of the world.

“I think it’s really important for kids to see someone who looks like them, to see a Santa who isn’t just white [and] to see that Santa Claus can come in many shapes and colors, ”he said.

Gaëlle Cassin-Ross launched the event five years ago. She says that growing up in the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe, it never occurred to her that Santa Claus could only be white.

“When we started this project in 2016, there was nowhere in town where my kids could see a Santa that was a little different and, in our case, looked like them,” she added.

At the time, Cassin-Ross’s son was only one year old, but she says she didn’t want him to grow up thinking Santa had only one color.

Gael Cassin-Ross a black American woman stands in front of a Christmas tree.  She wears a black and white mask and expensive green antlers in her hair.

Michelle Jokisch Polo



Gaëlle Cassin-Ross is the organizer of Lansing’s Black Santa Meet & Greet at the Willow Family Tree Center

“So it’s not like he can even start to think about these things. But I want him to never have a second to guess that superheroes come in all shapes and colors, ”she explained.

After taking place virtually last December, the event has returned in person this year. Tony Baltimore has been dressing up as Santa Claus for five years.

“I just like to say I’m a little younger and a little thinner Santa Claus,” he said.

He says beyond the children he meets, he hopes others will see him, perhaps in Christmas cards or on social media, and consider Santa Claus to be more than traditional depictions. of the cheerful old man.

“I think it’s important that we at least send a good message to the kids that Santa Claus is what you think he is,” he said.

Holding a letter addressed to him and written with finger paint, Baltimore says he plans to continue disguising himself as St. Nick for years to come.

“So I see children coming back. And then I got this, it was made for me. And he’s been waiting two years to give me that. So, you know, it’s special. And so, I don’t take the opportunity lightly, ”he said.

Tory Fuerst (left) is a seven-year-old white girl.  She is seated to the left of Santa Claus.  Tony Baltimore a Black Man is disguised as Santa Claus.  Tory's older sister, Gwen, sits across (right) from Santa Claus.  Gwen is an eleven year old white girl.

Michelle Jokisch Polo



Gwen Fuerst, 11 (right) and her sister Tory, 7 (left), meet Santa at the Willow Tree Family Center.

Although the annual event is the only one of its kind in the Lansing area, Cassin-Ross says she hopes it will inspire other members of the community to host Santa gatherings featuring Santas from color.

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