'Sesame Street' Adding 2 New Muppets to Highlight a Very Important Issue

Beloved children's show Sesame Street is adding two new Muppets — a Black father and son, to encourage conversation about race and promote racial literacy among children. The Muppets, 5-year-old Wes and his father Elijah, were introduced in a short video created by Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind the show, on Tuesday.

In the video, one of the show's new racial-literacy videos, Elmo says, "Elmo has a question. Elmo wants to know why Wes's skin is brown." New Muppet Wes explains, "I know why, Elmo, my mom and dad told me. It's because of melanin." Elijah then explains the concept of melanin and how "the color of our skin is an important part of who we are, but we should all know that it's O.K. that we all look different in so very many ways." Sesame Workshop also released a music video to the song "Giant," in which the Muppets celebrate their "own unique identities."

According to Jeanette Betancourt, the senior vice president of U.S. social impact for Sesame Workshop, the decision for Wes and Elijah to take on a more human appearance in comparison to other Muppets – including Sesame Street's first Black Muppet, Roosevelt Franklin, who appeared on the show from 1970 to 1975 and was purple – was deliberate. She told TIME Wes and Elijah's realistic skin tones allow the show to "address the physicality of race," though the show also aims to teach viewers that race is not the only thing that defines them.

"It's not just that they are Black Muppets; they're built as a family," Betancourt said. "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?"

As part of Sesame Workshop's Coming Together initiative, additional resources to support families who want to discuss race and racism with their children will also be released. The initiative, according to a press release, is designed "to provide families with the tools they need to build racial literacy, to have open conversations with young children, to engage allies and advocates to become upstanders against racism, and more." In a statement, Betancourt said Sesame Workshop looks "at every issue through the lens of a child. Children are not colorblind — not only do they first notice differences in race in infancy, but they also start forming their own sense of identity at a very young age." She added that "by encouraging these much-needed conversations through Coming Together, we can help children build a positive sense of identity and value the identities of others."

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Wes and Elijah mark the latest Muppets to join the Sesame Street cast. In recent years, the beloved educational kids show has introduced numerous characters to help address difficult issues. In May 2019, Sesame Street introduced Karli, a green Muppet with yellow hair whose mother was battling substance abuse. In 2011, the series introduced a Muppet named Lilly whose family was struggling with hunger and later homelessness, a Muppet named Alex with a father in prison was added in 2013, and Julia, a Muppet with autism, was introduced in 2015.