New Muppet characters, Wes and Elijah welcomed on Sesame Street. (AP images)
By Betti Halsell, Contributing Writer for La Sentinel
Sesame Workshop recently produced content that brings awareness around race and ethnic backgrounds. “ABCs of Racial Literacy,” is looking to create an unbiased perspective on how to introduce the subject of race into a family household. With new Muppet characters like Wes and Elijah, new neighbors are welcomed on Sesame Street; introducing skin color and the Melanin behind every shade that the world sees.
Sesame Workshop is a branch under the Sesame Street umbrella, focusing on social responsibility and philanthropic activities. Their work is channeled through streaming shows, social media, research and innovation, school participation, products, and live entertainment.
This branch of Sesame Street is a non-profit organization, with a mission to “help kids everywhere grow smarter, stronger, and kinder.” Sesame Street has invested in early educational development since 1969, they believe “it’s the key to tackling the world’s biggest challenges and giving every child a chance for success.”
Presently, the world is seeing through a magnifying lens of race; ABCs of Racial Literacy is putting words to that much-needed household conversation. Sesame Street is assisting with constructing an open dialogue among families to talk about different racial backgrounds.
Some of the topics Sesame Workshop has tackled in the past include gender equality, traumatic experiences, and financial empowerment. ABCs of Racial Literacy is a project stemming from their Coming Together initiative; built from a wide range of research and discussions to create a curriculum appropriate for young children. Coming Together is looking to also influence future episodes of Sesame Street.
The ABCs of Racial Literacy initiative is “designed to provide families with the tools they need to build racial literacy, to have open conversations with young children.” It launched on March 23; the resources look to reflect the needs of diverse families. Two new Muppets have been introduced on Sesame Street; Wes, a 5-year-old boy, and his father Elijah.
In their premiere episode, one of Sesame Street’s core characters, Elmo, is curious about Wes’ skin color. The 5-year-old Muppet explains the recent conversation he had about Melanin with his dad. Elijah goes into further detail for both Elmo and Wes, about the “concept of melanin and how the skin is an important part of who we are.”
Earlier this month, on March 15, Sesame Workshop announced the New Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer position; Veteran employee Wanda Witherspoon has been chosen to oversee the commitment. Witherspoon sat as Sesame Street’s Workshop Vice President of Public Affairs and Special Events; the “ABCs of Racial Literacy” is one of the first projects she will see come out of Sesame Workshop in her new position.
Quoting Witherspoon from the press release announcing her position, “Having directly witnessed Sesame Workshop’s impact on diverse communities around the world for more than twenty years, I am thrilled to now lead our efforts to ensure that same impact extends within the organization.”
The New Chief of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer Role continued, “As we redouble our efforts to authentically represent and support children everywhere, I look forward to creating sustainable change and opportunities for Sesame Workshop staff that reflect our deep commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
The content of ABCs of Racial Literacy consists of music videos celebrating diversity like in their Warner Music Group Arts song, “Giant,” that out now and available on all major platforms. The next highlighted discussion will identify issues in the Latinx community. Sesame Street’s character, Sophia talks with her friend and Rosita’s mom about a racially charged incident that took place in a grocery store. These illustrated talking points will be available for families to dissect further after watching each video.
ABC’s of Racial Literacy is a free service and set in bilingual languages, the initiative is distributed across national and local providers as part of the Sesame Street in the Community program. This is a subgroup of the non-profit organization that focuses on supporting families and children that are most vulnerable; they provide a portal to social workers, education and affordable medical care.
Executive Vice President of Creative and Production of Sesame Workshop, Kay Wilson Stallings, stated in the press release, “Sesame Workshop has always stood for diversity, inclusion, equity, and kindness. As a trusted source for families, we have a responsibility to speak out for racial justice and empower families to have conversations about race and identity with their children at a young age.”
The executive vice president continued, “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 need support in talking to their children about racism. We’re proud to reaffirm our Coming Together commitment to racial justice, which will be woven into new Sesame Workshop content for years to come.”
Sesame Workshop commissioned a study, looking into the relationship between children and racism. Adolescents between the ages of 6-11 were interested in learning about race, with a spike in Black Children.
A considerable amount of the focus group wanted to discuss race; a majority of the parents were comfortable with allowing a media platform to educate their young about race. The ABCs of Racial Literacy is looking to be that tool to build a bridge into a deeper conversation about race in all family settings.
Sesame Workshop has a mission to be an “innovative force for change, with a mission to help kids everywhere grow smarter, stronger, and kinder.” The non-profit organization is active in over 150 countries and dedicated their media outlet to assist educational development and philanthropic action.
A healthy conversation about race needs to happen in every household, ABCs of Racial Literacy is creating a safe way for many families to prepare for the questions and provide them with knowledge-based answers. With multiple resources under Sesame Street and their new role of Diversity and Equity, the T.V. show has taken part of educating people for generations, has once again evolved, and increased its efforts to amplify racial equity.