In Northwest Wanderings, photographer Alan Berner explores places and communities throughout the Pacific Northwest. This week, he goes behind the scenes with Santa and his helpers at the Northwest African American Museum in Seattle.
First-time Santa Londel Monroe-Walker is getting into character at the Northwest African American Museum. His previous costumed experience was as the Easter bunny at Zion Preparatory Academy. “This is a step up,” Monroe-Walker says. The Easter bunny was a silent role sitting for photos with students. This volunteer gig is more interactive. His Santa suit is custom-modified with accents of dashiki cloth, the brightly colored garment widely worn by men, particularly in West Africa. His black polyester beard covers his mouth and he gets help with adjustments. The elves are wearing soft, pointed-toe shoe covers. The knobbed ends keep flopping over, needing frequent fixing. Tall and lean, Monroe-Walker is working on his “Ho Ho Hos.” He’s filled out his belly with fabric stuffed under the suit. He greets each child, or adult, who wishes to sit with Santa with “ho ho ho, merry Christmas” and “Happy Kwanzaa.” He jokes that each visitor “will get 53 seconds” with Santa. The line has to keep moving. Everyone gets a peppermint candy cane. He makes no promises about presents. “I can’t just give anything,” he says.” I must try to keep it real.” Monroe-Walker, 31, born and raised in South Seattle, was chosen for the role by photographer Keenan Hart because, “first of all, I had to make sure Santa has a personality, is good with kids.” Hart says black Santa “is not about a race thing. We don’t want Santa to be limited, not to be the Santa you just see on TV.” He adds, “We want Santa to be Asian, Samoan, Mexican — all different Santas.” Monroe-Walker echoes the feeling. “I’m trying to create something to bring us together, the community to come together.” Hart says, “there are no limitations to Santa Claus. There are no limitations to life. “If you can believe it, you can achieve it.” Santa will be at From Bottom 2 Top photo studio, 901 Occidental Ave. S., Dec. 17 to 23, noon to 8 p.m.