Black Excellence – Chris Kennedy, the Black Santa

Two years ago, Chris Kennedy put up an inflatable, seven foot tall, Black Santa in his front yard. An angry community member responded with a racist note stating:

“Please remove your negro Santa Claus yard decoration,” the letter, signed by an anonymous “Santa Claus,” read. “You should try not to deceive children into believing that I am negro. I am a caucasian (white man, to you) and have been for the past 600 years.”

In response to the note, Mr. Kennedy did not remove his Santa and added a second Black Santa. He posted about the incident on Facebook and his neighbors and community responded by decorating their front lawns with Black Santas too.

Chris Kennedy's front lawn in Little Rock. After he received a racist note demanding he remove the Black Santa outside his home, he added a second one. (Courtesy of Chris Kennedy)

In response to the note, Mr. Kennedy did not remove his Santa and added a second Black Santa. He posted about the incident on Facebook and his neighbors and community responded by decorating their front lawns with Black Santas too.

Inspired to further action, he stated,

“I couldn’t let hatred win,”...“You don’t like me having a Black Santa in my front yard? I will go and be the Santa Claus for the entire city.”

So he rented a Santa suit, began taking photos with his daughter and then traveled across the country from his home in North Little Rock, Arkansas to attend a Santa Camp run by the New England Santa Society in New Hampshire. At camp, he was the only Black Santa. His experience at camp is portrayed in a new HBO documentary “Santa Camp” along with the stories of a disabled man and a transgender man. Get your hankies on hand before you watch!

(Rated TV-MA for mature audiences. The content is intended for adults, and isn't really suitable for children under the age of 17.)

Chris Kennedy became a professional Santa Claus after receiving a racist note two years ago, demanding him to remove the inflatable Black Santa from his front lawn in Little Rock. (HBO Max/John Tully)


Black Excellence: Daniel Smith 3/11/1932-10/2022

This month, we mourn the passing of Daniel Smith who died at the age of 90. His life of activism and his pursuit of civil rights very probably stemmed from being the child of Abram Smith, who himself was born into slavery in the 1860’s.

In multiple interviews, Daniel has recalled stories of his father’s experiences under slavery and the ensuing era of Reconstruction.

“At night, Smith would sneak out of bed to hear the stories only his older siblings were allowed to consume. From lynchings to horrid punishments, the stories were gruesome.”

Being raised the child of a former enslaved person along with his 5 siblings, he later came to acknowledge seeing his parents as,

“...followers of the “twice as good” philosophy — the futile belief that black people must perform twice as well as whites just to be considered equal. And beneath the sunny message of how extraordinary the Smith children were lay Abram Smith’s stories of slavery with their frightening symbols of brutality.”

As a young man, he served as a medic in the Korean War. Upon returning to his home in Winsted, CT in 1955, he was dubbed, “Danny Smith, the Negro hero of the town,” for rescuing a drowning man from a flood.

He later attended the Tuskegee Institute to pursue a career as a veterinarian but he left the program after the KKK bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL in order to join the Civil Rights Movement. Then, Mr. Smith went on to work on many endeavors related to race equity and civil rights. One such accomplishment was his work as a literacy advocate with migrant workers. This provoked retaliation from the KKK but it didn’t stop him from continuing to work on behalf of the movement, as his life was filled with similar endeavors until his retirement in 1994.

Click on the links to read more about this man’s remarkable life.


Black Excellence: Serena Williams

Uppermost in the news today regarding tennis star, Serena Williams, is her very recent retirement from the sport. Over the course of her career, she has won 21 Grand Slams but now, she’s leaving her tennis career with plans to grow her family. “If I have to choose between building my tennis resume and building my family, I choose the latter.”

 

In a recent interview with Selena Gomes on her new website for mental health awareness, acceptance and support, Wondermind, Serena stated that you have to “put yourself first mentally”.

She detailed that for her, "mental fitness" is learning how to "shut down," and she said: "I have serious boundaries, and I don't let anyone cross those boundaries."

Related Posts:

Venus and Serena Williams – Black Excellence

Reveal: The Masks We See and Those We Don’t

Book Corner – Mental Health Month


Black Excellence: Colin Kaepernick and Nessa Diab

This month, Transracial Journeys would like to take the opportunity to feature Colin Kaepernick and Nessa Diab.

Colin is an American athlete and activist who is also adopted! He came to great prominence as the San Francisco 49er quarterback who kneeled during the national anthem at football games to protest police brutality towards Black people.

 

In 2016, Kap launched the non profit Know Your Rights Camp that teaches, supports and nourishes African American children to have a brighter future.

Nessa is a well known radio and TV host. She’s also an activist! She helped found the Know Your Rights Camp, hosts an annual prom for disadvantaged girls in New York City centered around female empowerment and launched a mentoring and scholarship program for girls too!

Congratulations to this powerful and beautiful duo on the arrival of their baby!

 

Embed from Getty Images

Black Excellence: Todd Kennedy

Todd Kennedy is our camp counselor and athletic director extraordinaire.  Our children have come to love taking tumbling classes with Mr. Todd over the past several years, and he’s looking forward to seeing his kids and welcoming new families to camp this summer.

Mr. Todd has a special ministry with youth and has taught tumbling to over 9,000 kids in Cleveland, East Cleveland and Cleveland Heights.  He started tumbling at the age of eleven and grew up learning on grass, streets and old mattresses.  He went on to become an acro-gymnast and a power tumbler.  He has dedicated his life and his career to forming loving and inclusive communities via his tumbling program.

Of camp, Mr. Todd has said,

“I did not know I had other family members outside my family until I joined Transracial Journeys.”

We love you, Mr. T!

 

Mr. Todd

Mr. Todd being “spotted” by camp counselors Maggie and Mary at Bellwether Farm.


Black Excellence: Maya Angelou

Mlack Excellence Maya Angelou

Born in 1928, Marguerite Annie Johnson grew to be one of the most important American literary figures of the 19th and 20th centuries. You may better recognize her as Maya Angelou, author of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”.

She was also known for her work as a civil rights activist, a Calypso singer, a dancer, a poet and more.  Over the course of her life, she was awarded more than 50 honorary degrees as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom which was presented to her by President Barack Obama in 2010.

In a collection of her published essays entitled “Letter to My Daughter” she wrote, “The birth of my son caused me to develop enough courage to invent my life.” She went on to also say, “I gave birth to one child, a son, but I have thousands of daughters." In this collection, she serves up lots of advice to women that stems from her own lived experience.  It’s beautiful, wonderful, intelligent, wise and more.

In early 2022, the United States Mint honored Dr. Angelou by featuring her as part of the American Women Quarters Program.  Her coin if the first one launched in the series and is also the first U.S. coin to depict a Black woman.


Black Excellence: Kayla, Mary & Tiara

This month’s Black Excellence piece features three of our young counselors.  For more about how our children can transition from young camper to Camp Counselor, read this month's feature article "The Arc of Identity."

Transracial Journeys Camp Counselors

Kayla Bell

Kayla Bell

Kayla Bell

Pronouns: She/They

Kayla is currently a graduate student in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Kent State University. She earned her Bachelors of Science in Education from Ohio State University in 2018. She works as a building substitute at Breakthrough Middle School in Cleveland, Ohio.

Kayla’s Favorite Camp Memory:

“My favorite experience from camp was when the kids did their showcase of their many skills and talents. I felt it gave the kids the opportunity to express themselves and all that they had learned at camp.”

Mary Halm

Pronouns: She/Her

Mary is one of our new head camp counselors. She is a recent graduate of the University of Rochester where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Public Health. Currently, she is a Public Services Fellow with the Cleveland Foundation and the Cleveland Transformation Alliance.

Mary’s Favorite Camp Memory:

“I have many great memories from camp and being part of the TRJ family. I am not sure I can pick just one. Two really significant ones stand out for me. The first is my first year coming to camp. I was maybe 14. My mom and I went together, and it was the first time I walked into a space with my mom and didn't get a weird look. No one asked the question (you know the one) because everyone looked like us. I was 14, and this was my first time being in a space where I didn't have to answer the question I dreaded the most. The second most significant memory for me was coming to camp with my sister Maggie for the first time. She makes my TRJ Camp experience complete.”

Mary Halm

Mary Halm

Tiara Sargeant

G. Tiara Sargeant

G. Tiara Sargeant

Pronouns: she/her

Tiara serves as the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Coordinator for the Shaker Heights School District. She is a graduate of Hampton University with a degree in Strategic Communications and of Case Western Reserve University with a Masters Degree in Positive Organization Development.

Tiara’s Favorite Camp Memory:

“My favorite moment from camp was getting to connect with the families via meals. During our last in person camp at Bellwether, I loved getting to cook alongside the chef and share stories with other family members.”


Venus and Serena Williams – Black Excellence

During Women’s History Month we shine a light on Serena and Venus Willams.  These two strong sisters are the epitome of strength, grace, and excellence. Whether on or off the tennis court both women have continued to show and prove how dedication and commitment can turn gifts and talent into winning records, successful businesses and fulfilling personal lives.

“I love me. I’ve learned to love me. I’ve been like this my whole life and I embrace me. I love how I look. I am a full woman and I’m strong, and I’m powerful, and I’m beautiful at the same time.”
– Serena Williams taking on body shamers in a 2013 interview with ESPN.

"You have to let fear go. Another lesson is you just have to believe in yourself; you just have to. There's no way around it. No matter how things are stacked against you, you just have to every time."
- Venus Williams

Even under the harshest conditions when folks are coming at them, they stand tall, are not afraid to show their vulnerability, and to fight for what is right.  We salute Serena and Venus.  We also can’t wait to watch “King Richard” to have deeper look inside the lives of this amazing Black family.

 


Simone Biles – Black Excellence

On the Transracial Journeys Facebook Page, we recently asked for Black Excellence nominations. You did not disappoint! With nominees such as Jason Reynolds, Jacqueline Woodson, Resmaa Menakem and Simone Biles, it was tough to choose. However, there’s one candidate who strongly represents this month’s themes of love and history (in the making) and she is Simone Biles! Thank you for your nomination Nicole Zistler, and please keep your nominees coming.

Simone’s strength and grace is not simply about her gymnastics but it’s also present as she has had to navigate inappropriate discreditation of her family structure. Born in 1997, Simone and her three siblings spent their early childhood in foster care until her maternal grandparents adopted Simone and her younger sister, Adria. Her two older siblings were adopted by her grandfather Ron Biles’s sister, Harriet.

Inspired by Gabby Douglas at a young age, Simone has said, “Growing up, I didn’t see very many Black gymnasts…So whenever I did, I felt really inspired to go out there and want to be as good as them. I remember watching Gabby Douglas win the 2012 Olympics, and I was like, if she can do it, I can do it.”.

Simone Biles is not only the most decorated gymnast of all time with 7 Olympic medals and 25 World Medals, but she’s also known for mental health advocacy on behalf of herself and others. Under incredible pressure and under the world’s spotlight, she stepped out of the Tokyo Olympics to take care of her own mental health. She stated,

I have to put my pride aside. I have to do what’s right for me and focus on my mental health and not jeopardize my health and well-being. That’s why I decided to step back.”

At past Transracial Journeys  Family Camps and Zoom meetings, several of our kids have excitedly voiced their love for Simone. There are many books about her available at your local library, but only one of them is written by her “Courage to soar: a body in motion, a life in balance”. Check it out!


Black Excellence – bell hooks

Buy the cover art→  Art by Monica Ahanonu for TIME

Gloria Jean Watkins aka bell hooks (September 25, 1952 – December 15, 2021)

This month, we celebrate bell hooks and her contributions to race, class, and culture in her many books, and in her work as a feminist and as a professor.

In her book “All About Love”, she wrote that we put more emphasis on love as a noun, but she asked her readers to use it more like a verb. In the same book, she referred to M. Thomas Peck’s definition of love as

“the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”.

We have a lot to learn about our relationship to love, loving ourselves and loving others.  Dr. Hooks has left us a legacy of instruction in her body of published work.