Chris Kennedy of North Little Rock, Arkansas, loves putting up decorations for the holidays, including a light-up sign that says “Joy” and a statue of a Black Santa Claus that he hoped would set a good example for his 4-year-old daughter.
But his happy tradition was tainted by an anonymous racist letter that arrived at his home last week.
“I opened it and the first thing that popped out at me was the word ‘negro,'” Kennedy, 33, told TODAY. “So I put the letter down, I then went and grabbed my phone to record what was going on. I was trying to keep myself from confronting the person I immediately suspected of sending it.”
Kennedy read the letter out loud on Facebook Live and then took it to the police department.
“I filled a report for harassment with North Little Rock Police Department,” he said. “I then called the post office to file a report as well.”
Kennedy also contacted the homeowners association where he lives, as the return address on the envelope bore the address of the Lakewood Property Owner’s Association. TODAY reached out to the association but has not heard back. Its executive director told CNN he visited the Kennedy home and condemned the letter.
“I knew it hadn’t come from them I still wanted to make them aware of the situation,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy and his wife, Iddy, 31, and young daughter have lived in the neighborhood for three years. Until now, things have been peaceful.
“Outside of a few unpleasant interactions with our next door neighbor who flies a Confederate flag it been great,” he said.
Kennedy said his wife’s response upon seeing the letter, which included a picture of a Santa giving a double “thumbs down,” was sadness mixed with anger.
“After three years of having no problems from anyone with our decorations it happens this year,” he said. “We have been very active politically this year so we both feel that that might have played into this a little bit.”
Until Veterans Day, the family had a Black Lives Matter flag flying outside their home.
“The executive director of the the property owner’s association was extremely upset with the letter,” Kennedy said. Kennedy said the homeowner’s association gave them a complimentary membership to show they are an important part of the community. His neighbors have been showing their support, too.
“The rest of the neighborhood has been awesome since hearing about the letter,” he said. “If we are outside they often stop by and share kind words of encouragement. Some have brought us over cookies and other treats. One even brought us a yard sign that says ‘Love your neighbors Y’all.’ We have gotten gifts of Black Santa yard flags and a Merry Christmas flag with a Black Santa on it. Our neighbors have been absolutely amazing.”
Kennedy has been putting up the Black Santa, which stands over 6 feet tall, at his home every Christmas since they moved in.
“We had a small 3-foot one at our previous home in Little Rock,” he said.
Black Santa made his debut when Kennedy’s daughter, Emily, was born in 2016.
“We wanted her to grow up seeing herself represented in all forms and know that she has no limitations,” he said. “It’s very hard for us to find Black Santa decorations here in the South, so whenever we see them we often buy them.”
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Kennedy said that while he appreciates all the gifts, he hopes that people will instead donate to the Ronald McDonald House charities of Arkansas.
“There are many families that are facing difficulties with long term illness and because of COVID-19 they aren’t able to be around each other like normal,” he said. “I want to give them a small bit of joy during the holidays and any donations will help with that goal.”
Kennedy said that while he would love to see more Black Santa decorations everywhere, the greatest gift would be to see neighbors loving and respecting one another.
“My real neighbors have been simply amazing and I’m very happy that we moved to our neighborhood,” he said. “They have shown that we are truly better together than we are apart.”