By Chris Lumsdenvia, GMA
A North Carolina man is on a mission to spread Christmas cheer in a diverse way.
Photographer Stafford Braxton founded Santas Just Like Me in 2013 to help bring a more diverse pool of Santas to the region and “add a little color to your Christmas.”
“Growing up, most of the Black characters that I saw on television were painted in an unfavorable light,” Braxton told “Good Morning America.” “Having a Black Santa experience allows us to show how diverse America truly is.”
Braxton said it’s important for children of color to see themselves represented in all facets of life — and yes, that even includes Santa.
Braxton said his main goal is finding Santas who truly cherish the joys of the holiday season and can connect with families in a special way. After finding the right person for the job, Braxton trains them over the course of several weeks and serves as the lead photographer at each holiday event.
Though his business currently consists of Black Santas, Braxton said he hopes to eventually add Santas from other cultural backgrounds and those who speak different languages. “Christmas should be the most inclusive time of the year,” he said.
Braxton said seeing the look on a child’s face when they first encounter his Black Santas makes the job all worth it.
“At a recent Christmas tree lighting event, a little girl saw one of our Santas in his sleigh so she got out of her car and quickly ran over to hug him,” he said. “It was a beautiful thing to see.”MORE: With 1.5 million lights, grandfather continues to build on granddaughter’s wish.
Camille Kauer, who lives in Cary, North Carolina, with her husband and daughter, said the experience of having her family take photos with Santa is a major highlight of her holiday season each year and her daughter is always happy she gets to meet with her “true Santa.”
Courtesy Stafford Braxton: Camille Kauer and her family take a photo with Santa Warren of “Santas Just Like Me.”
“Having a Santa that feels like family has changed the holidays for us,” Kauer told “GMA.” “We truly enjoy our annual pictures with them and even though my daughter is now 13, she still looks forward to it.”
Due to the pandemic, Braxton’s team of Santas are offering virtual visits and non-contact “sleigh-bys” for those who aren’t local or prefer to social distance.
William Grogan, 59, is the newest Santa to join the team and said it’s amazing to connect with children from different backgrounds.
“When they first approach me, they’re often hesitant. But as I start talking to them, they become more receptive,” Grogan said. “Just to see that transformation from skepticism to that comfort level has been a joy.”
Braxton hopes to grow Santas Just Like Me into a non-profit so he can bring Christmas joy to underrepresented communities without them having to worry about affording the experience. He said he has no plans of slowing down in the foreseeable future and will continue doing what he loves the most: bringing joy and diversity to the holiday season.
“In the future, I’d love to do a Santa’s workshop bus tour so we can travel to different regions and have communities to see a Santa that looks like them,” Braxton said. “We’re family-oriented. That’s how we started and that’s how we’re going to stay.”
(This story was first published by ABC News.)