A review of the CNN and Sesame Street Townhall special
By Kharisma McIlwaine
The year 2020 has turned out to be a series of unbelievable events, one after another. Nothing is as it once was.
We are trying to manage life, school, and day-to-day activities in the midst of a global pandemic while under quarantine. As difficult as it has been for adults, one can only imagine the impact it’s having on children. There has been an increase in tough conversations as we all try to figure out what our new ‘normal’ will look like.
The elephant in the room, however, is racism — specifically, the direct correlation between racism and police brutality.
America was founded on the principles of White supremacy — racism was birthed out of those false ideologies. Although nothing about racism and its impact is new by any means, the amount of attention it has been receiving lately is. The combination of quarantine, unemployment and the lack of distractions have put a magnifying glass on the disproportionate amount of deaths Black and Brown people experience at the hands of the police.
America has been forced to pay attention and acknowledge a lot of painful truths recently, largely because of the filmed lynching of Ahmaud Arbery at the hands of two vigilantes (one a retired cop), the murder of Breonna Taylor at the hands of police during a silent warrant gone wrong, and finally the death of George Floyd who was killed on camera while pleading for his life, as former police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
Protestors took to the streets in all 50 states and then all over the world in solidarity with a push for immediate change. While many adults are still coming to terms with our reality, many children are being exposed to the evil truths of racism simultaneously. True to its dedication to education and equality, “Sesame Street” is using its platform to help families with these tough but necessary conversations.
On Saturday, June 6, “Sesame Street” and CNN combined their efforts for a special called, “Coming Together Standing Up to Racism”. Led by CNN contributors Van Jones and Erica Hill, beloved “Sesame Street” characters like Elmo, Big Bird and Abby Cadabby held a town hall meeting where they had open conversations with family members and various community figures to help navigate what’s happening in the world.
The special allowed for children to ask the adults questions. And although those questions were heartbreaking at times, they played a vital role in the conversation. It begins with Elmo having a heart to heart with his father as he tries to understand why people are protesting.
Elmo’s father explains…“A protest is when people come together to show they are upset or disagree about something. They want to make others aware of the problem. Through protesting, people are able to share their feelings and work together to make things better.”
Elmo notices that the protestors look upset. This is when the hard conversation happens, when Elmo’s dad has to explain that the protestors are upset about racism. “They are sad and upset and they have every right to be, Elmo,” he says. “People are upset, because racism is a huge problem in our country.”
Elmo, like many other children, had a hard time understanding racism. His father, with patience, explains to him that “racism is when people treat other people unfairly because of the way they look or the color of their skin.”
Elmo still doesn’t understand, because “Sesame Street” has always been an inclusive environment, where acceptance and kindness is taught.
“Not all streets are like Sesame Street,” his father responds. “On Sesame Street, we love and respect one another. Across the country people of color, especially in the Black community, are treated unfairly. What we are seeing is people saying ‘enough is enough.’”
Elmo later shares that he “wants to live in a world where the word racism is replaced with the word love”.
Throughout the remainder of the special, children like 7-year-old Laila from El Paso, Texas share their feelings and questions. Laila shared that she wants “everyone to be treated equally and that everyone is kind to one another, no matter what color they are.”.Abby Cadabby shares that she wants “the world to be fair and for everyone to feel included because we’re all magical”. Van Jones and Erica Hill answer additional questions, and special guest Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms also contributes to the conversation.
Mayor Lance Bottoms even goes as far as explaining the importance and necessity of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Seeing all of the civil unrest happening in the world can be frightening for children and challenging for parents to explain. Unfortunately, shielding children from these uncomfortable conversations about racism and the current climate in this country is not an option — these conversations are absolutely necessary. It is very reassuring to have trusted characters like Elmo, Big Bird and Abby questioning what’s happening and advocating for the importance of kindness and equality in a way that children can absorb.
“Sesame Street” and this town hall meeting are wonderful tools for parents to use to assist them in helping their children process these truly difficult times.It remains a safe space for children and families in a world where uncertainty, rage and sadness are more pervasive than ever.
To watch the full town hall meeting, visit: www.cnn.com/2020/06/06/app-news-section/cnn-sesame-street-race-town-hall-app-june-6-2020-app/index.html.