Story at a glance
- "Sesame Street" is introducing two new Black Muppet characters as part of their initiative to tackle race and racism through the show.
- The nonprofit educational wing of the show, "Sesame Workshop," is developing its racial justice curriculum both on- and off-screen.
- The children’s show has launched resources online in English and Spanish to help families learn from home during the coronavirus pandemic.
The cast of "Sesame Street" needed some help to address tough questions and conversations around race that have emerged in the last year, so they've called in two new Black characters to help: 5-year-old Wes and his father Elijah.
“[Wes is] very imaginative, he’s very fun. He’s always trying to help his friends and make sure that they feel safe and that they feel loved and that they can feel strong in their own skin. The more I perform him, the more I get to know him,” Bradley Freeman Jr., who is the puppeteer for Wesley Walker, told TIME magazine. “Sometimes he gets a little lost in his own emotions because he comes from a family that’s very big on communicating how they feel—he’s able to communicate, but he’s also 5 years old. So sometimes things overwhelm him, and he can be angry or sad. So that’s where he really relies on his dad and his friends to make sure that he can come to the best solution possible.”
THE LATEST ON THE BLACK LIVES MATTER MOVEMENT
Wes and his father aren’t the first Muppets of color on "Sesame Street," which has launched in more than 30 countries since its debut and currently includes eight international productions. More than half a century later, the cast has expanded to include Spanish-speaking characters, deaf characters and — most recently — two Rohingya-language refugees. Back in the United States, a diverse cast has tackled some tough subjects, but the “ABCs of Racial Literacy” engages with race and racism more directly than ever before.
“Children are not colorblind—not only do they first notice differences in race in infancy, but they also start forming their own sense of identity at a very young age,” said Jeanette Betancourt, Senior Vice President at Sesame Workshop, in a statement. “‘The ABCs of Racial Literacy’ is designed to foster open, age-appropriate conversations among families and support them in building racial literacy. By encouraging these much-needed conversations through Coming Together, we can help children build a positive sense of identity and value the identities of others."
Last April, "Sesame Street" held its first town hall "The ABC’s of COVID-19" to educate children and their families about the rapidly developing coronavirus pandemic as schools began to shut down and switch to remote learning. Since then, the Sesame Workshop has held four more, including one in June following the police killing of George Floyd and ensuing Black Lives Matter protests across the country.
“After last summer with the racial unrest that happened and the murder of George Floyd, we collectively as an organization decided that the only way that we could go about dismantling racism was by being bold and explicit,” says Kay Wilson Stallings, the executive vice president of creative and production for Sesame Workshop. “People were working remotely. People were feeling a lot of emotions, and it was almost like everyone had the same realization. If not Sesame, who’s going to address this?"
The effort is still growing and now includes songs, short documentaries, books and parenting strategies for families.
“The work to dismantle racism begins by helping children understand what racism is and how it hurts and impacts people. Sadly, today’s announcement comes at a time of racial and social discord when many families are in need of support in talking to their children about racism,” said Stallings.
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