SAN ANTONIO – Five-year-old Wesley is a black muppet on “Sesame Workshop”, the nonprofit behind “Sesame Street” and was created along with his father Elijah to talk about race and racism along with the other favorite Sesame Street characters.
In a video made by the nonprofit explaining race, Elmo meets up with Wes and his dad at a park on a Fall day, where different color leaves are falling.
Elmo walks up to Wes and asks why Wesley’s skin is brown. Wes explains it’s because of the amount of Melanin he has in his skin. They have a heartfelt conversation explaining that even though Elmo is red and Wes is brown -- similar to the falling leaves -- side by side they look beautiful and are strong together.
The puppeteer behind Wes is 22-year-old University of Texas at San Antonio graduate Bradley Freeman. He fell in love with puppeteering when he was a child and by ten years old he knew it’s what he wanted to do. Originally from Brownsville, Freeman said landing this role is a dream come true.
“To be in the room with big bird as he is filming something and he pops out of the suit and he’s like ‘Hey Brad thanks so much for coming and we really appreciate you and at some point we’ll go grab lunch.’ I’m just like I can’t believe I’m now in this situation,” Freeman said.
Freeman said back in 2018 he was one of 30 out of hundreds around the world selected to attend a three-day workshop for Sesame Street. It was there that he was able to learn from some of the best.
”I went and learned with my heroes Matt Vogle, Marty Robbins, you don’t know those names but they perform Big Bird, Snuffleupagus and Kermit the Frog,” Freeman said.
Earlier this year “Sesame Workshop” called him back, asking him to audition for the new Black muppet Wesley, with the goal of addressing the sometimes difficult conversations on race.
In this video, Wesley and some of his friends from Sesame Street sing “I am Somebody.” It’s a song about stand up tall and confident no matter what your skin color or race and standing up for one another and being respectful and caring.
“These conversations need to be had and Wes is essentially the main character of this situation,” Freeman said. Freeman, who is half Black and half Mexican, said it is empowering to play Wesley and understand what he’s feeling.
”He’s asking questions at the same time I’m asking those questions,” Freeman said. “I’m so proud to be the channel to which these kids get to experience these things and Wes is the channel I get to experience these things, so ya it’s powerful.”
You can watch Wesley on Sesame Workshop’s Racial Justice page and on its YouTube page. Eventually as Wesley’s character continues to be developed along with his family, they will hopefully become permanent characters on Sesame Street on PBS.
Also on Sesame Workshop, you can find more educational resources for children and parents in both English and Spanish.