Sesame Workshop, the production company behind the enduring “Sesame Street” TV series, has never been one to shy away from difficult issues. With the help of its beloved Muppets, “Sesame Street” addresses the complexities and emotions that come with issues as wide-ranging as addiction and foster care — both of which “Sesame Street” has tackled in recent years, with millions of children watching.
Once again, Sesame Workshop is stepping up to introduce children to another complicated topic — racism. And they’ve brought in two new Black Muppet characters to help kids talk about it.
The introduction of Wesley Walker and his father, Elijah, who made their debut on “Sesame Street” on March 23, is part of the “ABCs of Racial Literacy,” an initiative in Coming Together, Sesame’s “ongoing commitment to racial justice,” according to a press release. The initiative was created with an eye toward cultural inclusion and initiating age-appropriate discussions about racism. Sesame Workshop tweeted about the program, which includes resources families can use to help get those conversations started:
Our new resources help all families celebrate their own unique identities and talk with their children about race and racism. Learn more about our #ComingTogether initiative: https://t.co/mcySl22nLT pic.twitter.com/lGKBu7pp5n
— Sesame Workshop (@SesameWorkshop) March 23, 2021
“At Sesame Workshop, we look at every issue through the lens of a child. 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,” Jeanette Betancourt, a senior vice president at Sesame Workshop who holds a doctorate in special education, said in a press release. “‘The ABCs of Racial Literacy’ is designed to foster open, age-appropriate conversations among families and support them in building racial literacy.”
Along with the introduction of Wes and Elijah, the ABCs of Racial Literacy includes resources for parents, teachers and caretakers to provide a springboard for discussion about race and racism in society, including worksheets, educational materials and videos that families can experience together.
In one of the initiative’s videos, Wesley, Elmo and other Muppets sing “I am Somebody (Giant Song),” a song that celebrates the characters’ cultural and physical uniqueness while acknowledging how they are also more alike than different:
The idea to talk about race and racism directly with children came to producers in 2020.
“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,” Kay Wilson Stallings, the executive vice president of creative and production for Sesame Workshop, told Time. “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? It felt like everyone had the same, ‘Yes, we’ve got to do something about it, and the first way to address it is that we need to define racism for 3-year-olds.’”
In a touching Coming Together video produced by Sesame Workshop, Elmo talks to Wesley and his dad about why their skin looks different from his red fur. Their conversation explains melanin in a way that even young children can understand:
You can find more of Sesame’s ABCs of Racial Literacy resources at their Coming Together page. Sesame also has online resources for a range of other issues, including autism acceptance, military families and traumatic experiences.