CultureFilm / TV

50 years of sesame street uniting children worldwide

May 30, 2019
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This is America in 1969. We are six years away from the end of the Vietnam War. Nixon is sworn in as the 37th president of the United States. The Beatles make their last public performance on a roof in New York City. The first man landed on the moon on the Apollo 11 mission by the US. The internet is created. Sirhan Sirhan admits to killing presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy. James Earl Ray admits to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. In Missouri, a Black teenager called “Robert. R.” dies from a baffling medical condition later identified as the first case of HIV/AIDS in the US. There are Stonewall riots in New York City, launching the modern gay rights movement in the US. The first-ever Woodstock takes place in upstate New York. The Brady Bunch premieres. 14 Black student athletes are kicked off of the University of Wyoming football team for wearing Black armbands. The first draft lottery is held in the US since World War II. Black Panther Party members Fred Hampton and Mark Clark are shot dead in their sleep during a raid by 14 Chicago police officers. On November 10, Sesame Street premieres on NET.

Suffice it to say, America in 1969 was a time of revolution, riot and growth. With every moment of pain came another of creative perseverance and innovative human resistance. That society consistently fails our Black and Brown babies can be discouraging and depressing, or, it can be just the prompt one needs to create a world changing series that is 50 years strong. 

After recognizing a serious racial and class disparity in child education in the USA, Sesame Street was born and with it more kids than ever were granted an education. Today, we so fondly celebrate Sesame Street for the work it has done for access to all and diversity. When Sesame Street first came on air, America was in the process of educational reform as means to solve inequality. According to reports from the US Department of Education in 2015, “across the nation 59 percent of 4-year olds — or six out of every 10 children — are not enrolled in publicly funded preschool programs through state preschool, Head Start, and special education preschool services. Even fewer are enrolled in the highest-quality programs.” This number was much lower in 1970, with only 19% of 4 year olds in preschool. To combat this, 36% of preschool-aged kids watched Sesame Street.

Thank God for Sesame Street. Its commitment to diversity is exactly what children first embarking on their education need to see. The Atlantic interprets Kermit The Frog’s journey with his color as a way to showcase self-esteem and diversity. Kermit begins with the statement “It’s not easy bein’ green” and unloads his frustrations saying that he blends into too many things and would rather be red or white until he realizes all the cool things about being green (like that it’s the color of spring), “I think it’s what I want to be.” 

Let us celebrate 50 years of Sesame Street with its most progressive moments!

Tara Wheels, a 9-year-old girl with osteogenesis joined the Sesame Street family in 1993. The genetic disorder required her to use a wheelchair. She showed how the wheelchair did not slow her down while doing wheelchair exercises. Children learned about accessibility ramps and wheelchair ballet, among other things!

In 1981, Linda Bove brought awareness to sign language and deafness when she appeared on the show as a librarian. She worked with writers to be sure that the character was authentic and true to the hearing impaired community. 

Using a character called Kami which translates to acceptance, HIV/AIDS awareness was brought to South Africa via Sesame Street, or Takalani Sesame, as its known there. Tami taught children how HIV is and is not transmitted and has appeared alongside celebrities like Desmond Tutu, Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg and more. 

Now we get to Segi, who taught us about self-acceptance through loving our hair. There isn’t much to say, just watch:

Since 2016, Julia has been part of Sesame Street’s autism awareness initiative. She doesn’t talk much or make eye contact and she is sensitive to loud noise. She is very smart with a great memory as well. 

Producers introduced a bilingual character named Rosita La Monstruas de las Cuevas (the monster of the caves) in 2001. Rosita teaching us all the Spanish word of the day educating children all over about Latin American culture and language. 

In 2006, an Arab-Israeli muppet called Rechov Sumsum Mahboub’s Friend who spoke both Arabic and Hebrew was introduced into the Israeli Sesame Street universe. He made that sure kids understood that differences in language and culture shouldn’t keep friends apart.

Since 2011, Sesame Street has tried to bring the show to Afghanistan, a war-torn country. While it is not easy, they decided to tackle the issue of Women’s rights. This is how we were introduced to Zari, which means shimmering, the first muppet of Afghan descent to give young Afghan girls a positive, powerful role model. 

Most recently, Karli was added to the muppet family! She is child in foster care who we meet with her “for-now parents.” It is to remind us and make sure foster parents know that what they do matters.