Children and Parents Come Together and Stand Up to Racism

Sesame Street Standing Up to Racism

CNN and Sesame Street teamed up to present a virtual town hall, Coming Together: Standing Up to Racism. The show has been recorded and can be seen on CNN’s page. CNN  has also compiled a valuable page, with sections for each age group: How to Talk to Your Child About Protests and Racism.


Why Is There Racism and What Can Children and Their Parents Do?

“I’m hoping for a better change in people to make sure everybody is kind to one another,” said Laila, a 7-year-old girl. Abby Cadabby agreed. Gabrielle added she wanted to be treated with kindness and respect.

Then, there was Elmo, who asked what a protest is. His dad explained that people make signs to make things better. “A protest is when people come together to show they are upset and disagree with something. They want to make others aware of the problem,” he said. “With protest, people are able to share their feelings and then work together and make things better. The protesters are sad… and they have every right to be.” “People are upset because racism is a huge problem in our country.”

“Not all streets are like Sesame Street,” explains Elmo’s dad. “But on other streets people are treated unfairly because of the way they look. They are saying enough is enough with racism.”

Van Jones, explained how African Americans are often treated differently by people in society, especially some police officers. Big Bird joined in, but he had to learn that standing up means making changes. A boy named Solomon asked why racism is still a concern when the Civil Rights Era was so long ago. Van explained that racism has been around for a very long time. Stella, Abram, and Saige wanted to know how kids like them can help stop racism. Erica Hill

Keisha Lance Bottoms, Mayor of Atlanta. First, she explained that when you see someone say something that is wrong, say that it is wrong. A boy, Sean, asked, “If black people have contributed so much, why are they still put down?” Van and the mayor explained that, sometimes, people put others down when they are feeling badly about themselves. “You can’t treat people the way people the way they treat you. You have to treat them the way you want to be treated,” she added.

A girl named Anaya asked why not “All Lives Matter”? Mayor Bottoms said that there is a history of black people in this country that’s unlike any other race. We were brought to this country as slaves. We must correct misconceptions.

Cortni, a mother of two, asked whether is it too early to explain this to her very young sons? They want to know why she keeps crying. Mayor Bottoms replied, “I don’t think it’s too early to have this conversation,” explaining that we need to put it in a context they can understand. And they should be allowed to feel the anger and sadness they see in their parents.”

Rosita asked, “Why do we all have different skin colors?” Dr. Nia Heard-Garris, Pediatrician. Explained the role of melanin in skin color. Later, Jeanette Betancourt, of Sesame Street, “It’s important to talk about how people are treated unfairly because of their skin color. Nobody should be treated that way. Children and families are taking action together.”

Kyle wants to be a neurosurgeon when he grows up. “Can I operate on racist brains to change them?” Dr. he asks. Garris responded that as doctors, you care for everyone. By healing people’s hearts now, you will be able to heal their bodies later.”

“Children will see that our actions are more important than our words,” said Dr. Betancourt.

Xavier asked the same question as Solomon earlier, saying that Nana talked about protesting in the 1960s. “And here were are again,” said Gordon and Maria, saying marching and protesting for change, so we won’t have to confront racism again. “We’ve got to change the course of history, now


Empathy and Action

Abby Cadabby was back to say she said she is upset at how people are treated around the country. She cited her friend, Big Bird, who was bullied because of his yellow feathers. “You are showing empathy,” said Van, explaining the word. Van said that not only did Abby show empathy, she also took action. “That’s what we need people to do around racism.”

“Standing up and acting are the steps we all must to do,” said Erica.

Alliah, a mom, asked about the balance of informing our children and protecting them and not burdening them with additional anxiety. Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, a psychologist, explained that what is fair and unfair is something even young children can readily understand.

Christa, mom, asked about the very important topic of white privilege. Dr Jennifer Harvey, author of Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America, said that white privilege is that white people in American society have many unjust benefits, just because we are white, not because we deserve them. “The most dangerous kind of white privilege is that we can just sit this struggle out.”

There are many books for children on the topic of racism for parents to read with their children in an age-appropriate way. Dr. Tatum recommends

Then, it was time for Elmo to introduce his friend, a girl named Saniya. “What do I do when I encounter racism?” Dr. Harvey says all children need to learn how to deal with racism – black kids if they are a target of it or white kids to call it out. “Learn that we can all learn to be anti-racist together,” she said. That also goes for other types of bigotry, such as that aimed at Asian Americans, as we have witnessed in this age of COVID-19.

Our children learn about antiracism from us. We need be in action. “Our children learn anti-racism from us,” said Dr. Harvey.

Big Bird presented his friend, Keedron Bryant, Gospel singer, sang a song about how he feels. “I Just Want to Live.” He wants all of us to live life. Van – “We’re counting on your generation to make things better.”

Keedron Bryant: “I feel we could all change the world.”


Coming Together

Many of us have seen that uplifting video of little two little boys, one black, one white – Maxwell and Finnegan – running to each other.

Children expressed fear about how they will be treated by an officer. Charles Ramsey, former Philly Police Commissioner, explained how there are some police officers who are acting badly. We must make sure that no police officer, no one, should be treated differently because of the color of their skin. Tell a grownup if you see an officer doing wrong. The police should be there to serve and protect.

A’Dream – will the revolution continue after the cameras are rolling. Van – “This movement will go on as long as we expand who we care about.”

“I can do better!” That’s what the protests are about, for us and for our country.

Both Caroll Spinney and Fred Rogers Remembered What It Was Like to Be a Child

Thirteen Big Bird Fred Rogers

“It’s not easy being green. It seems you blend in with so many ordinary things. People tend to pass you over. But green is the color of spring. And green can be cool and friendly. And green can be big like a mountain. Or tall as a tree. Or big as a sea.” So Big Bird’s – and Caroll Spinney’s tribute went to Jim Henson. He liked himself just the way he was.

One day, Big Bird noticed a familiar face at Mister Hooper’s Store. It wasn’t until after he raced Snuffleupagus it dawned on him. Fortunately, the soft-spoken man came back for a visit. “Mister Rogers, What do you think about hugging Big Birds?”

“I don’t know. I have never tried.”

“I like you, Mister Rogers.”

“I like you, Big Bird.”

“I think most people completely forget what it was like being a kid by the time they grow up,” Caroll Spinney said in a 1982 New York Times interview. “But I never got over it.”

The same could be said of both Rogers and Spinney. With empathy, they both related to children, the very essence of what it is to be human.

A Half Century of Kindness and Acceptance. Looking Back to 1969 with Sesame Street and Mister Rogers


Mister Rogers Neighborhood Trolley


Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Indeed, as anyone who checks their Facebook feed or watches the news probably knows, there is a lot of negativity out there, both in the media and in the world. Perhaps, that’s why last year, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, a low-budget documentary of a low-budget show by a humble man resounded among so many people. “Love is at the root of everything,” said Fred Rogers. (Sometimes, he conveyed that through art and music.)

One year later, the need for Mister Rogers’s message continues to be as great. Just in time for the 50th anniversary of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, comes another beautiful cinematic biography, It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. This year, we are celebrating the 50th anniversaries of both Mister Rogers and Sesame Street, along with the 30th anniversary of the U.N. Convention of the Rights of the Child. We need to know there is goodness in the world. Nothing saintly. Nothing magical. Simply, be kind to one another, love your neighbor. The movie is beautifully made; the acting and cinematography are all top notch. (I also heartily recommend last year’s documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.) The anniversaries may be old, but A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is truly a movie for our time.

All along, Mister Rogers reached out not only to the children he adored, but also adults, with whom he was – and continues to be – a balm for the adult soul. To children and adults alike, he said, “Sometimes, you have to ask for help. And that’s okay.” To Fred, it was also about reconnecting to one’s childhood. “You were a child once, too.” (One is reminded of Janusz Korczak’s masterpiece, When I Am Little Again. So perhaps, like the Old Doctor, Mister Rogers is – a hero after all.

Although Mister Rogers conveyed his passion for social justice through his everyday acts of kindness, many fans will remember the 1969 episode,when he invited Francois Clemmons for a “dip” in his pool.


Also 50 years ago, as a champion for children, Fred Rogers was a champion of public television, the only “channel” he deemed suitable for his program.


And 50 years ago, another forward-thinking children’s show debuted: Sesame Street. Like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, this program is not afraid to tackle important topics, still supporting families today. Topics also include autism and drug addiction – and, yes, feelings. Just as the Officer Clemmons episode broke ground in bridging racial segregation, Sesame Street, from the outset spoke to children in the inner city.


NYS State Museum - 123 Sesame Street

The Sesame Street set has been recreated at the New York State Museum.

Downtown Bridgetown - Cheerful School

The message of Sesame Street is universal, as this Bridgetown, Barbados, school attests.


Today, the reach of the program expands, now including Syrian children.

Appreciating Autism with Julia

Appreciating Autism with Julia

Julia, the new Muppet with autism autistic on Sesame Street autism awareness appreciation

Sesame Street in October 2015 introduced Julia, a Muppet with autism in one of their storybooks. On Monday, April 10, Julia mad her screen debut!


Sunny days have become sunnier at Sesame Street with a new kid on the block, a vivacious girl with bright red hair and large, expressive green eyes. Meet Julia. And she happens to have autism. Announced October 2015Julia made her debut on the beloved children’s show Monday, April 10, as part of Autism Awareness Month. In a video to introduce the character, Julia’s friend Abby Cadabby explains, “lots of kids have autism.” And “that means their brains just work a little differently,” she continues.  As the Amazing Song proclaims, this effort by Sesame Street is to promote not just autism awareness, but autism acceptance and appreciation.

(CBS News made the announcement on Sunday, April 2; the following day, Julia was introduced in Congress.  Incidentally, Power Rangers introduced Billy, a blue character with autism.)


A Basis on Research and Experience

Noteworthy is that the people who create and enact the show themselves have experience with autism. Frank Campagna, the writer of the respected blog “Autism Daddy” is one of the video producers at Children’s Television Workshop. In his blog, he discusses how, after the birth of his severely autistic son, he sought to bring awareness and acceptance of the condition on the show.  And bringing Julia to life is puppeteer Stacey Gordon, an advocate and a parent of a boy with autism.

A researcher at Virginia Tech, herself a mom of a boy with autism, praises the way Julia doesn’t just talk about autism, but shows her young audience how autism is another way of thinking and being, providing the tools for them to interact with their autistic peers.


Resources for Parents

“Sesame Street and Autism” offers a variety of resources for parents, including the following:  Storybook image of Julia, a Sesame Street Muppet with autism


Sunny Day
Sweepin’ the clouds away
On my way to where the air is sweet

Can you tell me how to get,
How to get to Sesame Street

Come and play
Everything’s A-OK
Friendly neighbors there
That’s where we meet….

Meet Julia, Who Happens to Be Amazing!

Julia autism autistic Sesame Street acceptance awareness

Julia, the new Sesame Street character with autism, has already made friends on this wonderful children’s show, offering an example of acceptance of our differences.

Ah, yes – I am old enough to remember when Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch, and all of Jim Henson’s other beloved Muppet creations were brand new, resplendent in their Technicolor glory on my aunt and uncle’s RCA color television set, the one big enough to be a bedroom dresser and, like one, encased in warm wood.  However, even my younger readers would have also grown up on Sesame Street.  In fact, young and very young audiences in more than 150 countries around the world watch this all-time classic show, nearly a half century after it first aired in 1969.  Back in the year in which Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon, Sesame Street was a champion of inclusion.  And in that proud tradition, the highly respected show on October 21, 2015, launched “Sesame Street and Autism.”  This far-reaching initiative has opened to considerable acclaim.  The timing is also notable, in light of the astonishing new book NeuroTribes, which not only counters the stigma of autism, but also presents the case for full acceptance of people with this different kind of mind.

Through the catchy “The Amazing Song,” Sesame Street raises autism awareness and, and more important, acceptance of our differences.    Christine Ferraro, who wrote the lyrics to the song, explains her connection to autism, in that she has a brother on the autism spectrum.  This fact inspired her to feature siblings in the video and other instructional materials, as amazing children have amazing brothers and sisters, who may need a little reassurance.  “Every kid is an original; we’re all one of a kind   We’re all as different as can be, but in some important ways, we’re all the same  – we can all be friends, because there’s so much we can share.  We all have feelings     We all need a friend who can understand.”   Oh, by the way, one of the children conveys his messages via an alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) device, while another uses American Sign Language.

In the highlight reel, Julia says, “Lots of kids have autism.”  And, she adds, “That means their brains just work a little differently.”  Julia then introduces us to her “real-life” friend Nasaiah.  She points out that his mom helps him learn how to play with other boys his age.  Later on, we meet Jasmine, who with her parents, help her younger sister, Yesenia, with everyday self-care activities.  And there is Louie’s father, who explains how his son made him “so much a better person, a better father.”    Further on, the mom of another child says, “I just think he looks at the world in a very different way than we do.  I don’t think it’s a bad way…. I think it’s amazing.”  According to Sesame Street executive Sherrie Wilson, “Families with autistic children tend to gravitate toward digital content, which is why we created Julia digitally.”

In “Sesame Street and Autism.  Family Time with Grover,”  the beloved blue Muppet introduces us to Angie.  Angie, like many other children, a very special way with her younger brothers.  Although they are twins and both have autism, they are very different personalities.  This is perhaps the best testament to the well-proven adage, “When you have met one person with autism, you have met a person with autism.”

Frank Campagna, the writer of the popular and highly respected blog “Autism Daddy,”  is one of the video producers at Children’s Television Workshop.  After the birth of his severely autistic son, he sought ways in which to spread autism awareness through the award-winning children’ show as well.

Christopher Jackson, one of the writers and artists of Sesame Street and Autism, has a son with autism.  He talks of his “beautiful struggle.”  His son’s loving nature inspired him to partake in this endeavor.

The Autism Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) assisted in the creation of Sesame Street and Autism.  In its policy statement, the advocacy organization states, “Sesame Street should be commended for reaching out to and focusing on the many voices of the autistic community… aimed at ending stigma and increasing understanding and inclusion of autistic children.”

Sesame Street and Autism offers resources for everyone – children with autism, their parents, and children and parents of children who do not have autism:

Even children who are limited in their ability to express their thoughts and feelings verbally can sing along:

Sunny Day
Sweepin’ the clouds away
On my way to where the air is sweet

Can you tell me how to get,
How to get to Sesame Street

Come and play
Everything’s A-OK
Friendly neighbors there
That’s where we meet….