Chicago get ready for Dreezy Claus to breeze through the Windy City. Brown-skinned with a picture perfect smile, dreadlocks, a white and gray beard, and spectacles to see who has been naughty or nice, Dreezy Claus, affectionately known as Chicago’s Black Santa, is coming to a neighborhood near you. Andre Russell, the man in the red suit, hosted a private event exclusively for the Chicago Defender. After spreading jolly and cheer to a few antsy children, he sat down with us for an interview to share the importance of what he does and why.
When did you start Dreezy Claus?
I’ve been doing Black Santa Claus for almost ten years as part of my charity work for the annual gift drive hosted by Smith Center for Community Advancement and co-hosted and held at Rose of Light Missionary Baptist Church. I also perform at events for close family and friends. Someone introduced the idea of doing Dreezy Claus as a professional, more structured brand, and I have been doing so for about three years now.
What is your mission, and why is it especially important in the climate we’re in today?
My overall mission is simple – to put smiles on people’s faces. This is fun, and I look forward to doing this every year. Dreezy Claus is also about representation. Many children and adults have never seen a black Santa and don’t realize Santa can be black or whatever color you want him to be. Our children have been so conditioned to believe the traditional image of Santa – a white man, St. Nick. It means the world to me to give other children the chance to experience black Santa as well.
Along with establishing a public image of black Santa, I wrote a children’s book called Dreezy Claus and the Boy Who Didn’t Believe. Last year, I was thinking about storytelling and holiday books, and at the time, I did not see many culturally sensitive books on Santa Claus. In my book, I introduce Black Santa Claus to a young boy who did not believe there was such a person. The story is about what it means to believe.
Andre plans to introduce a series of Dreezy Claus books very soon. His next book will be an interactive coloring and activity book. For now, you can purchase his book and other holiday items on https://www.dreezyclaus.com/.
Last year, Dreezy Claus attended Chance the Rapper’s SocialWorks’ annual Night at the Museum fundraiser. “The amazing thing about this event is that I was the only Santa there. This was a multi-cultural event and many people had never seen a black Santa before. They were so excited to see me. Many said it was good to see a black Santa represented with dreadlocks.
He was also invited to the Black Business Trolley Tour, where they visited and supported black businesses on Chicago’s southside. One of their stops was in Roseland, a predominantly black neighborhood on the southside. “There was a young black man, probably in his twenties, when he saw me, he was so excited and started screaming ‘hey black Santa Claus!’ He ran over to me and started taking pictures, and even posted us on Snapchat. This is what my mission is all about. His reaction meant the world to me. I want to reach as many people as I can to experience this.
How have you adapted to social distancing and safety guidelines due to the pandemic?
When the pandemic first started, I immediately thought about what I was going to do. I knew things were going to be different, but I also knew that I had to make it work. Adults, not just kids, are going to need positive energy, especially around the holidays. For me, it is a matter of responsibility. So, I decided to take Dreezy Claus virtually. Over the summer, I invested in the right equipment and researched the appropriate apps to use. We did a Christmas in July event where I checked in with families to see how they were doing. This was a great way to “test the waters” before launching the virtual events for the holiday season. We must present a professional, polished, and personalized service to our families and everyone involved.
What does Dreezy Claus do when the suit comes off?
I am a behavior interventionist who is a dean of Students at LEARN Hunter Perkins Charter School [K-8] on West 83rd Street, the southside of Chicago.
What message would you like to convey to children?
Keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t give up. I know it sounds cliche, but when I look at everything that’s going on, the best part about it is that we as a people don’t give up. We keep going; we keep pushing. We don’t stop. If we fail, we try again. Do not just subscribe to something that you do not like and quit because that does not help anybody. Please do not quit, and I mean that with e-learning, through this pandemic, with everything. That’s the story that we want to share with our children, grandchildren – we lived through it and thrived.
Dreezy Claus can be reached on Facebook and Instagram using the handle @dreezyclaus. You may also visit their website at dreezyclaus.com.
Contributor, Kim Durden is a food writer and owner of Divine Dine Food Tours and DivinE320.