The Black Lives Matter protests during the summer of 2020 was the impetus for changes across industries as more people began to talk openly and honestly about race in America. Now we’re seeing the positive changes as a result of the uprising with the addition of two Black humanoid muppets on Sesame Street who will be discussing race on the beloved show for kids. Sesame Workshop and its team of educational advisers developed “Coming Together”, a racial-justice initiative with an educational framework and curriculum that includes “The ABCs of Racial Literacy.” It’s been about eight month since it launched which included a town hall with CNN about racism and protest, as well as a special, “The Power of We,” about speaking out against systemic racism and prejudice.
“On Sesame Street, we all love and respect one another. Across the country, people of color, especially in the Black community, are being treated unfairly because of how they look, their culture, race and who they are. What we are seeing is people saying enough is enough. They want to end racism,” Elmo’s dad Louie told Elmo to explain the demonstrations in a viral clip from the town hall in June.
These conversations are going to happen more intentionally through two new Muppet characters, Wesley Walker and his dad, Elijah. Both are African American humanoid Muppets and they directly answer questions revolving around race from non-humanoid characters like Elmo who at one point in the racial literacy videos asks why their skin is brown.
Wesley enthusiastically replies: “I know why, Elmo. My mom and dad told me it’s because of melanin. Right, dad?” Elijah openly supports what his son says and goes on to explain more in detail without sounding condescending but rather providing clarity.
“The color of one’s skin,” Elijah adds, “is an important part of who we are, but we should all know that it’s OK that we all look different in so very many ways.”
The dynamic of father and son works well as a way to help facilitate similar conversations between parents and their children. Jeanette Betancourt, the senior vice president of U.S. social impact for Sesame Workshop, told TIME that it was intentional that Elijah and Wes are humanoid so they can address what it’s like to navigate the world as a Black person. Sesame Street’s first Black Muppet, Roosevelt Franklin, who appeared on the show from 1970 to 1975, was purple.
“It’s not just that they are Black Muppets; they’re built as a family,” Betancourt says. “There’s a backstory for them and their personalities. What we really look at is, What is the identity of our Muppets? What are their characteristics? What is their personality and their self-identity?” Elijah, for instance, a 35-year-old meteorologist, loves running, being outdoors, watching movies and cooking with his family. Wes, who’s 5, loves going to school and playing pretend with his friends meanwhile his mom, Naomi, is currently in development TIME reported.