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Warren Keyes on being

Raleigh’s Black Santa By Art Menius Photography by S. Braxton Enterprises

With his frequent laughs, Warren Keyes’ deep voice exudes warmth even through a telephone from his Raleigh home. That is appropriate since Keyes is a Santa. Not just any Santa, but the Triangle’s Black Santa whose annual residency at the Hayti Heritage Center in Durham already is a holiday tradition. Keyes has had this residency and holiday career for six years, and business has grown – demonstrating that he does a good job at something people want. “It’s been great,” his manager, Raleigh photographer Stafford Braxton, reported. “The first couple of years of this were kind of flat. The third year it exploded. We’ve been doubling in business every year since.” Keyes had no plans to become a Santa, even though he and his wife had noticed kids watching him after his beard turned gray. The New Bern native, NC State alumnus and long-time Wake County resident had worked in the restaurant industry, radio and computer support. He currently does some voice-over work and acting, mostly at the Raleigh Little Theatre. How he became a Santa, he says, “is an interesting and twisting story.” Keyes’ Black Santa career wasn’t even his idea, but Braxton’s. He recalled, “I had been doing the conventional Santa in the [Crabtree Valley] mall for about two or three years. And the guests in the mall would keep asking [whether] we were going to ever have a black Santa. I approached management at the mall to see if that would be something that they could do. ... They said it’s a good idea, but that’s as far as it went.” Braxton decided, therefore, to find a black Santa on his own, but had little idea where to find one. The places turned out to be the mall itself and a wedding. While working with a white Santa at Crabtree Valley, a co-worker with whom he had shared his idea said, “’Stafford, just have a look. That guy looks like a black Santa.’ Warren Keyes was just walking through the mall doing his Christmas shopping. I ran up to him, handed him a business card, and I told who I was. I said if you’re interested ... in being a Santa next year call me in January and we can talk about it.” Having heard nothing, Braxton advertised on Craigslist for an African-American with a natural beard who could be Santa but had no luck there. “That May I did a wedding, and there was a guy at the wedding that looked like a black Santa. So, I talked to my groom a couple of weeks later. I said, ‘Hey, that black guy at the wedding, do you know him?’ He said, ‘Yeah for over 20 years,’ and I told him what I wanted to do.” The groom then called his friend and gave him Braxton’s contact information. Again, time passed with no response. Braxton told the groom that the potential Santa must not be interested, but the groom told him otherwise. After another call, they had an appointment to meet. DECEMBER 2018 |

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Profile for OutreachNC magazine

OutreachNC December 2018  

The Trading Traditions Issue

OutreachNC December 2018  

The Trading Traditions Issue