“Sesame Street” to air second special of 2020 – 30 minutes on how to be “anti-racist”

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NEW YORK CITY, NY – “Sesame Street,” which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary of influencing young minds, will be presenting a special on racism later this month.

According to NBC News, the 30 minute special, entitled “The Power of We,” will be formatted like a Zoom conference.  It will stream on PBS Kids and HBO Max, and will be broadcast on PBS Stations beginning October 15.

The show’s website, presented by Sesame Workshop, explains:

“Unfortunately, most of us can show bias or racial prejudice sometimes, but racism is more than that. It is a system of advantages and privilege based on race. Racism is learned.

“Talking about racism helps to answer children’s often hard questions about race and unfair treatment of people based on the color of their skin. It can also help us all learn what we can do to make our diverse world equitable and fair for all. 

“The Power of We celebrates every child’s unique identity and sense of belonging to a caring community and inclusive world.”

Kay Wilson Stallings, executive vice president of creative and production at Sesame Workshop, said in a statement:

“We believe that this moment calls for a direct discussion about racism to help children grasp the issues and teach them that they are never too young to be ‘upstanders’ for themselves, one another, and their communities.”

Through skits and songs, NBC reports, the show will define “racism” and encourage children to speak up when they encounter racism directed at themselves or others.

According to the show’s website, the muppet cast of the show will feature 3 1/2-year-old Elmo and 4-year-old Abby Cadabby.  They are joined by 6 and 3/4-year old Gabrielle, and her cousin, 8-year-old Tamir.

Human cast members will include regular “Sesame Street” characters Alan, Gordon, Chris and Charlie.  They are joined by “Black-ish” actress and activist Yada Shahidi, actor and singer/songwriter Christopher Jackson, and singer Andra Day.

According to NBC, the show will feature an animated skit in which a white muppet informs a black muppet that the black muppet cannot be a superhero, as superheroes are “only white.”  The black muppet refuses to stop playing a superhero, “saying they can come in all colors.”  The white muppet apologizes.

Also in the show will be a song entitled, “How Do You Know?” featuring Elmo and Tamir.

NBC reports:

“‘Hey, Elmo, how would you feel if I said, ‘I don’t like you ‘cause I don’t like the color red?‘” sings Tamir, a Black, 8-year-old Muppet.

“Elmo responds: ‘Elmo wouldn’t care what you said ’cause Elmo is proud, proud to be red!’

“It concludes with the lines: ‘Speak up. Say something. Don’t give in.’”

Sesame Workshop has also offered online resources for families.  It offers answers to questions like “What is racism?” and “What’s an upstander?” 

In addition, it offers printable resources on talking, singing, and breathing together.

A coloring page featuring Elmo beneath a rainbow states:  “_______________ is an upstander!” at the bottom.

“The Power of We” is not the first special on racism that “Sesame Street” has created.

In June 2020, the show, in conjunction with CNN, presented a town hall on racism entitled “Coming Together:  Standing Up to Racism.”  The episode featured CNN’s Van Jones and Erica Hill and can be viewed in its entirety at this link.

The piece opens with children and muppets introducing themselves and calling for people to be kind to each other.

After video of crowds chanting, “Black Lives Matter,” Elmo and his father Louie discuss protests and racism.  Louie tells Elmo that a protest consists of people who are “upset and disagree about something,” and who “share their feelings and work together to make things better.”

Louie goes on to tell his 3 1/2 year old son:

“Across the country, people of color, especially in the black community, are being treated unfairly because of how they look, their- their culture, race, and who they are.”

The show, using a Zoom format, then adds Jones and Hill into the discussion.

Jones tells Elmo that people with “brown skin like me” are paid less, even though they work as hard as others.

He adds:

“You know, sometimes a police officer might think somebody’s a bad guy just because that person’s got dark skin, and then he doesn’t treat them very well at all.”

The town hall meeting then begins.

Jones and Hill are joined by Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in taking viewer questions on the subject of racism.

For example, Anaya, age 9, of Frisco, Texas, asks:

“How do you respond to a classmate who questions, ‘Why is Black Lives Matter necessary?  All lives matter.’ 

“Especially when you may be the only black student in your class, or one of very few.“

Mayor Bottoms responds:

“What I would say, you just have to explain to them that there is a history in this country for black people in this country that’s not like any other race in this country. 

“We are the only race of people who came to this country enslaved, and it’s the reason that we contin- have to continue to call on our history and speak our history. 

“And so while we respect people of all colors and all races, that when black people are still being unfairly targeted, very publicly, it’s important that we speak that as well.”

The town hall continues in a similar vein with additional guests and questions.

One guest, Dr. Nia Heard-Garris, Minority Health, Equity, and Inclusion Chief at the American Academy of Pediatrics, tells one parent of a nearly two-year-old child that children as young as two should be told:

“People were brought to the United States as workers, as slaves, that were unpaid, and that was not fair.  And they were treated really poorly.  And those people are black people, people that come from countries in Africa.

“And then you can start to build on that conversation, to paint where we are right now, and how this has been something that’s been going on for years and years, centuries, and that’s why we’re seeing what we’re seeing now.”

The program goes on to introduce more guests, along with a discussion on white privilege.

Guest Jennifer Harvey, PhD, author of Raising White Kids:  Bringing up Children in a Racially Unjust America, defines white privilege as:

“the situation where racism as it impacts black communities and LatinX communities, Asian-American and Native American communities – white communities are not negatively impacted by racism and sometimes we get unjust benefits and easier access to things just because we’re white, not because we deserve it.”

Harvey goes on to tell a parent:

“One of the most important things that we need to acknowledge right now is that the most dangerous kind of white privilege is to think that we can sit this justice struggle out. 

“This struggle won’t be over in two weeks, and as communities of color and especially African-American communities are leading the cau- struggle for racial justice right now, white Americans need to get all in with them, both interrupting racism in our families, even if it’s uncomfortable or causes conflict, but also supporting racial justice organizations in our neighborhoods, in our cities, where black folks are leading and standing up against racism right now.”

 

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Gospel singer Keedron Bryant, age 12, sings a song he and his mother wrote. 

Keedron tells Jones, Hill, and Big Bird:

“It’s kind of sad to sing those lyrics because it’s kind of unfair that, like the song said, we can’t go out and enjoy life.”

Charles Ramsey, former Commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department, later joins the show to answer questions from children on why police officers would “harm” them due to the color of their skin.

Ramsey responds:

“[T]he reality is, people are out there demonstrating right now, because there are a few police officers that don’t always act the way we’d like them to act.  And they don’t need to be police officers.”

He continues:

“Most officers do a good job every single day, and will always be there to help you. But we have to make sure that, regardless of the circumstances, police officers always do their job the right way, and no one, especially police officers, but no one should ever treat anyone differently based on the color of their skin.”

Marissa, age 7, asks the commissioner:

“Now I’m wondering, who do we call when the police are being unsafe?”

Ramsey tells her to inform a grownup so that people like him, as a former police chief, can act upon the information, “to make sure that we only have police officers that are there to serve and protect people, not to harm people.”

When 9-year-old Paityn asks a question about the impact of George Floyd’s death, Ramsey responds:

“I hope that the death of Mr. Floyd, which should never have happened, but I would hope that his death is not in vain, and does lead to change, because we all need to recognize that things are not fair like they should be in our country.”

The show concludes with Elmo presenting his protest sign, which he had discussed earlier with his father.  The sign features stick figures with different color heads smiling and holding hands around a rainbow heart, and Elmo says he will bring the sign to the community center “to show his support.”

Hosts and characters invite the television audience to

“join us all in doing better.”

Elmo adds:

“And stopping racism.”

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