Things That Matter

If You Grew Up With A Family Member In Prison, This Retro ‘Sesame Street’ Episode Will Pull On Your Heartstrings

In a video that may tug on a few heartstrings for some of us who grew up with both “Sesame Street” in our lives and an incarcerated family member (or two), the video from 2013 introducing viewers to Alex, a muppet that revealed his dad was in prison, was trending this week. His story was part of Sesame Street’s tool kit, a series of online educational videos designed to help address issues that don’t normally get talked about in children’s programming.

Like so many of us who experienced this, Alex tries to get out of talking about his dad.

Credit: Sesame Street / PBS

A common issue among children with family members who are incarcerated is feeling shame whenever anyone even remotely mentions them. Doesn’t matter who the family member is. If it’s an uncle, cousin, sibling, the moment someone brings them up, it’s like “My uncle? Sure, yeah. Hey, some weather we’re having, huh?”

Sofia, the non-muppet, played by actress Jasmine Romero, recounts her own family incarceration story.

Credit: Sesame Street / PBS

Sofia goes through the motions of what it looks like for kids growing up in this situation. Writing letters, lots of tears with family and drawings being sent back and forth. For those who experienced this: isn’t it amazing how the drawings coming back from those incarcerated look like actual works of art?

This part of the video series is on the “Sesame Street” site in Spanish.

Credit: Sesame Street / PBS

This is great for bilingual households dealing with this as well, especially since these issues are seldom spoken about openly in Latino households. You know, how like maybe your tío wasn’t in prison, he was just “upstate.”

Heartbreakingly, Alex asks “what If I do grow up to be like him?”

Credit: Sesame Street / PBS

Alex ponders if it’s all his fault as Sofia talks to him about her experiences with her dad being in prison. His question is triggered by Sofia’s reveal that she thought her dad’s fate was somehow her fault, too. This one hits home for anyone who grew up around this, as kids are always affected by these issues the most.

Of the character and “Incarceration” theme, Jeanette Betancourt, VP of Outreach and Educational Practices at Sesame Workshop said in a 2013 interview with USA Today:

“We are looking not at the cause of the incarceration of the parent, but at the impact of the incarceration on the lives of children and their caregivers… We’re tackling this very difficult topic, but also acknowledging this very invisible community… We’ve heard quite a bit from adults who experienced this as children and who never talked about it out of guilt or shame.”

Aside from Alex, Sesame Street has been in the news a lot lately, most notably because PBS’ funding is being jeopardized by government budget cuts.

Fortunately, Sesame Street is on HBO and its future is probably safe for now.

In addition to the virality of Alex’s story, the show recently introduced Julia, a muppet who has autism.

credit: Sesame Street / Washington Post

Based on a character previously introduced in a Sesame Street book, Julia will introduce a topic never explored on the show before.

Also, a “best of” video released this week featuring digs at “Donald Grump.” Sesame Street has dished out some pretty sweet jabs at Trump over the years.

credit:  Sesame Street / Washington Post

Pretty astute commentary for a kid’s show.

All in all, it was a pretty big week for the muppets of Sesame Street. Can’t wait to see what HBO has in store for Rosita and the gang.

READ: Sesame Street’s New Resident Speaks About Being Latina, Bilingual, And Proud

What do you think about Sesame Street addressing these issues? Share with someone who grew up on the show with the links below!

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com

Sesame Street’s Special On Antiracism Is A Reminder Of All The Times They’ve Tackled Difficult Topics Head-On

Entertainment

Sesame Street’s Special On Antiracism Is A Reminder Of All The Times They’ve Tackled Difficult Topics Head-On

Photo: via Getty Images

“Sesame Street” continues to put in the work and have difficult conversations publicly, and in ways that children can understand.

The legendary kids’ show recently announced that they will be airing an antiracism special starting on October 15th called “The Power of We.” The special will aim to teach families how to “become upstanders against racism”.

“Children look to their families with love and trust to guide their understanding about their place in this great big world,” read a statement on The Sesame Street Workshop’s website. “This Sesame Street special is an uplifting and joyful celebration of how each of us is unique and how we can work together to help make this world a better place for ourselves, our friends, and for everyone!”

The special plans to explore topics of everyone having different skin colors and identities, and what it means to be “color proud”—having pride in your own culture and race.

According to Sesame Street Workshop, the special will center around Elmo, Abby Cadabby, Gabrielle, and Gabrielle’s cousin Tamir. It will also include appearances from celebrity guests like Yara Shahidi, Christopher Jackson, and Andra Day.

As long-time fans of “Sesame Street” know, this is not the first time the iconic show has tackled difficult topics in a kid-friendly manner. The show has long prided itself on teaching children about life’s difficulties from an early age. The program has been groundbreaking in its treatment of taboo topics.

For example, in 2018 the program addressed the topic of homelessness in a segment called “A Rainbow Kind of Day”.

In the segment, a muppet name Lilly decides she doesn’t want to paint anymore. After being encouraged to talk about her feelings by Elmo and Sophia, she explains that she is sad because the color purple reminds her of her old room in a home she doesn’t have anymore. Sophia teaches her that “home is where ever the love lives, and you can take that love and hope with you wherever you go.”

Or in 2012 when the show featured a character whose parents were divorced–a familial situation that is surprisingly still underrepresented on kids’ TV shows.

In this episode, Abby Cadabby makes drawings of her two homes. A confused Elmo gets a lesson from Gordon on what divorce is. Gordon’s matter-of-fact explanation takes away any shame or stigma that children of divorce might be feeling because their families are a little bit different than others’.

And of course, the legendary episode from 1982 in which Big Bird learns about death and grief.

To this day, critics call this episode “revolutionary” for the way it avoided pandering or condescending to children. It was in this episode that “Sesame Street” showed the confidence that it has in its audience. The creatives behind the show obviously recognize that children (just like adults) are hyper-aware of everything going on around them.

“Sesame Street has always been real-world,” Sherrie Westin, Sesame Workshop’s EVP of global impact and philanthropy, told Fast Company in 2017. “It’s not a fantasy, it’s not a fairy tale. One of the things that sets us apart is respecting children and dealing with real-world issues from a child’s perspective.”

You can watch Sesame Street’s “The Power of We” streaming on HBO Max starting on Thursday, October 15th. It will also air on PBS stations that same day. You can download the special’s companion guide here.

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com

There’s A New Character On Plaza Sesamo And She Happens To Be HIV-Positive

Things That Matter

There’s A New Character On Plaza Sesamo And She Happens To Be HIV-Positive

Takalani Sesame / Facebook

Sesame Street has long been known for its inclusive agenda, not only in its United States iteration but also in the many versions of the show worldwide. The show was originally released in the 1969-1970 season in the United States, and uses puppets, live action actors and celebrities to convey educational and inclusive messages through songs, dance, laughter, some mild cheekiness and a lot of love. Characters such as Cookie Monster and Elmo have inspired generations of little children and their parents to be kinder, more resilient and overall awesome.

Sesame street just turned 50 and its cultural saliency cannot be underestimated. Among its many celebrity guests we have seen Muhammad Ali, Burt Lancaster, David Beckham, Beyoncé, BB King, Robin Williams, David Bowie, Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift, among many others. 

So it came as no surprise when the South African version of the program announced the launch of their new character, a girl named Kami (we just love her name yo!). 

Kami loves to dance, dress with cool streetwear and, by the way, she is HIV-positive.

Credit: @LoveTakalani / Twitter

The show is called Takalani Sesame in South Africa and its producers describe it as a show: “Promoting literacy, numeracy and basic life skills. A distinctly South African television, radio and community outreach program.”

This type of advocacy is key in a country like South Africa, where Apartheid is a not-so-distant memory and racial conflict is sadly still an important challenge for social cohesion. HIV levels in the country are also high, and some children are born with the virus as there is perinatal transmission from mother to child which is not always prevented due to limited access to the proper health services. 

Kami is five-years-old and lives a happy and giving existence.

Credit: @LoveTakalani / Twitter

The HIV virus is part of Kami’s family life and the show tried to educate young audiences on the facts and myths about HIV-positive people. Her name is derived from the Setwani word kamogelo, which means acceptance. She is a healthy carrier of the virus but knows well how it can affect lives, as her mom died from it. Her mission in life is to inform others about what an HIV-positive status means, but also how to be accepting towards others, particularly if they are different. 

Kami was revealed to the world in 2002, but her message is more relevant today than ever before.

Credit: Takalani Sesame / YouTube

Kami is a real celebrity and has been named a “champion for children worldwide” by UNICEF. the UN agency in charge of promoting children’s wellbeing. It is amazing to see how directly they deal with the issue, without sugarcoating reality, while at the same time keeping the show child friendly. For example, in this episode Kami is sad because other kids don’t want to play with her, so her friends clearly explain that touching an HIV-positive person would get you sick. It is heartwarming and poignant at the same time. 

Sesame Street uses puppets to teach kids about harsh realities worldwide.

Kami is not the only Sesame Street character that has taught kids about concepts that are hard to grasp because they belong to the realm of death, war and disease. As Hank Stuever reminded us in a 2019 article in The Washington Post, producers have dealt with social issues for years, which is one of the reasons why the show is so endearing.

He writes: “‘Sesame’ has helped its viewers cope with divorce, the incarceration of a parent and the deployment of family members in the military. Julia, a Muppet with autism, made her 2017 debut on the TV show to wide acclaim and gratitude from parents. The Workshop reaches children affected by war or hurricanes and other disasters. In Afghanistan, it showed that girls can and should go to school”. The show is good in measuring the cultural temperature of the times and dealing with issues that affect kids and kids care about. 

Besides Julia, a character with autism, the show made an important inclusion in the United States, as reported by Vancouver Province: “Sesame Workshop, the non-profit behind the show, has welcomed Karli, a Muppet in foster care, as well as her “for-now” parents, Dalia and Clem. All three Muppets appear in videos posted online as part of an initiative to provide free resources to caregivers navigating difficult issues, such as family homelessness, foster care and trauma.”

This is what children’s programming should be all about: issues that are complex to understand and explain, and finding ways to make things approachable for the little ones. Last year the show introduced the first muppet to be experiencing homelessness, a growing problem among struggling families in the United States and elsewhere. 

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com