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Larry Jefferson becomes the first black Santa at the Mall of America

‘I’m just a messenger to bring hope, love and peace to girls and boys’

A black Santa Claus will greet children and pose for Christmas photos at the Mall of America (MOA) for the first time in the mall’s 24-year history.

Landon Luther — owner of the small photo studio inside the mall for 10 years called the Santa Experience — looked far and wide for a more diverse Santa candidate last spring. With the help of 20-year MOA veteran who goes by the name of Santa Sid, Luther was put in contact with Larry Jefferson. They met following a St. Nicholas convention in Branson, Missouri, where more than 1,000 Santas congregated in July.

A retired U.S. Army veteran, Jefferson was the only black Santa attending the conference. When Luther approached him, Jefferson agreed to a four-day contract in Minnesota.

“This is a long time coming,” Luther told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “We want Santa to be for everyone, period.”

By appointment only and from Thursday to Sunday, Santa Larry will pass out candy canes, pose for photos and greet children at the mall.

At this time, more than a hundred appointments have been made, with Saturday and Sunday already filled to capacity. Limited opportunities to meet with Santa Larry remain on Friday. There’s a waitlist if one doesn’t make that.

For Jefferson, skin tone is the least of the concerns the children have.

“What they see most of the time is this red suit and candy,” Jefferson told the Star Tribune. “[Santa represents] a good spirit. I’m just a messenger to bring hope, love and peace to girls and boys.”

At age 12, Jefferson got into the act after his father injured his back. He would go around the family’s Arkansas home delivering the gifts to his younger siblings and would continue to play the role as a member of the U.S. Army infantry during the Gulf War.

The event that may have put the Irving, Texas, native on a fast track to the premier Santa school was his sick nephews, who were unable to meet the local mall Santa that year. Jefferson went to Wal-Mart, bought a $30 suit, got a fake beard and donned the outfit for the boys.

Now, Jefferson, who was the first and only black member of the Lone Star Santas — a nonprofit organization that donates toys to children and is compromised of more than 350 Mr. Clauses, Mrs. Clauses and elves — doesn’t need a fake beard, as he’s grown out his own real one over the years.

Shanene Herbert, director of Project SPIRIT, reached out to the MOA to coordinate a meeting with her after-school student group. The organization uses black culture as a vehicle to teach black students in St. Paul Public Schools about positive role models.

“Kids only see one image of Santa,” Herbert said. “Even though he’s a fictional character, he could be any color, any race, any gender. This is an image of him, too.”

Rhiannon Walker is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a drinker of Sassy Cow Creamery chocolate milk, an owner of an extensive Disney VHS collection, and she might have a heart attack if Frank Ocean doesn't drop his second album.