Seeing a Santa who looks like you

David Trinko Guest columnist

David Trinko Guest columnist

Darnell Collins doesn’t remember ever seeing a Santa Claus that looked like him when he was growing up.

That just didn’t seem right to Collins, the principal at the Lima Senior Alternative School, a former Spartan head football coach and a man who happens to be Black.

“I think everything should be culturally relevant,” Collins said. “You know, we are a very diverse society all across the world, and I think anytime that a certain ethnic group can see themselves represented, whether it be Santa Claus or anything else, I think that’s very important.”

Santa’s pretty busy this time of year, so he enlists helpers to make it to all the different gatherings. The majority of them follow the post-1931 image of the Santa Claus that Coca-Cola helped define, a hefty white man with a big, fluffy white beard.

Santa had plenty of different looks in legend and lore before that. The original third century gift-giver, St. Nicholas, would’ve been from what’s now southern Turkey and likely wouldn’t have had any Caucasian features.

Last week, Lima City Schools held its Holiday Learning Night, complete with a Black Santa Claus. The photos we shared from the event on our front page didn’t show a darker-skinned Santa, instead focusing on children enjoying arts and crafts there.

After hearing this concerned some people within the Lima schools, I called to speak to Collins, who played Santa that night, and cleared the air about our unintended slight and learned more about his perspective on representation in media.

We’ve shared plenty of photos of Santas with white, rosy cheeks over the years. I’ve never really given it much thought, but that’s the issue with representation.

As someone who more closely resembles a white Santa Claus with each passing day and whiter hair, I wouldn’t think much about it. After adopting a foster child who happens to be Hispanic, I’m learning to consider it more.

I promised Collins — and I’m promising the community publicly now — that The Lima News will be more aware of these perceptions.

They’ve had Black people helping as Santa Claus for years at the Mizpah Community Center on Lima’s South Central Avenue, said Mary Monford, its director. Lima councilman Derry Glenn will don the suit this week.

“The black children were impressed, like, ‘OK, this is somebody that looks like me. This is somebody that I can see dressed and tell him what I want for Christmas,’” Monford said. “So I think it’s very important. And it’s the same way I feel about having Black teachers in school.”

Kesha Drake, the executive director of the Bradfield Community Center, said her agency always finds volunteers willing to fill in for Jolly St. Nick. She recalled living in Cuyahoga County and attending an event with plenty of multicultural Santas, including Black, white, Asian and more.

“Unfortunately in our community, when you see Santa or you see him at the mall, it’s always a white Santa,” she said. “I think we should expose kids to multiple cultural opportunities. Everything should look like our community looks.”

That’s how Collins ended up filling the role of a lifetime. When Lima schools wanted to find a Black man to play Santa Claus last year, he reluctantly stepped into the big red suit.

“Last year was my first time ever playing Santa,” Collins said. “I was a little apprehensive at first because it was something I’d never done. But, you know, once I got the suit on and started walking around the building and seeing the faces of the young children, they just lit up. And I think that that’s really important. I really enjoyed it.”

The children seem to as well, he said, grateful to see a Santa who looks like them. That opens them up to the possibility of accomplishing anything.

“We’re seeing that diversity is so important,” Collins said. “It’s just something that we need to be more cognizant about because everybody should be represented. Everybody should feel comfortable and confident about being accepted.”

David Trinko is managing editor of The Lima News, a division of AIM Media Midwest. Reach him at 567-242-0467, by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @Lima_Trinko.

David Trinko Guest columnist Trinko Guest columnist