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November 12th, 2009
05:19 PM ET

Sesame Street – A place where everyone owns a piece of the street

Benjamin Ola. Akande, PhD
Dean, School of Business & Technology
Webster University

I’ve found racial and ethnic harmony in the most unexpected place, Sesame Street. Sesame Street is a world of respectful puppets and kind friends where everyone owns a piece of the neighborhood. With puppets (including those played by Webster University alumni Matt Vogel and Victoria Rudolph) representing the good in all of us, Sesame Street shows us the value in believing in ourselves and in the resilient energy to overcome, to persevere, and to make a difference.

Kermit the Frog taught us the value of friendship and reminds us all that we were all born original yet we spend the rest of our lives trying to be copies. Kermit challenges us all to strive to stay unique.

Big Bird taught us that we are all birds of different feathers and that life is not about how different we are but the difference we make. Big Bird challenges us all to continue to strive towards building relationships with others and not to confuse our net worth with our self worth.

It is the Count who introduces us to the intricate value of money and warned against the tendency of putting too much value on material things.


And I am always impressed with Oscar who, though grouchy, consistently demonstrates the value of respect and tolerance for different ideas and different people.

Finally I cannot forget the connoisseur of continental cookies, the Cookie Monster, who shows us about the negative consequences of addictive behavior and that too much of anything is not good for us.

Sesame Street provides the ultimate forum for leadership development by showing us to trust not only scientific representation or an analysis of the world, but the community itself. Leaders who believe in more than sociological statistics but in real people and those who trust not only the objective interpretation of reality, but their inner soul, can all learn from the “Street”.

Big Bird and his gang teach us all that leaders must embrace not only ideology but also our own thought. They urge us through their actions to embrace the summary report as well as the feelings of others. They do it by demonstrating personal knowledge of the past, the experience of the present, and an abiding faith in the future. Sesame Street shows us that the best way we can bring authenticity to ourselves, is simply by being ourselves.

Former Oklahoma Congressman J.C. Watts captured the challenges that lay ahead for our nation when he said, “America needs to be a place where all of us can feel a part of the American dream.” But this will not happen by dividing us into racial groups. It will not happen by trying to turn the poor against the rich. It will not happen by asking Americans to accept what is immoral and wrong in the name of tolerance. America must find a way to put our differences aside.

I agree with J.C. that the future of America will be good if all of us come to a realization that we can do more together than we can ever do apart. Sesame Street stands for a non-violent society, yet America has found itself in the middle of a crossfire where hate is growing faster than love and the victims are people like you and me, innocent bystanders caught in this societal drive-by shooting. I am afraid that if America does not find a way to come together, then nothing will stop us from growing apart. We may legislate against possession of firearms and explosive devices. This may help, but it is us, not the material, that lie at the core of those abject acts of utter violence. What shall we do about us?

I see America more like a great big bowl of tossed salad, where the diversity of people, and ideas, make for a culturally, ethnically diverse salad rich in possibilities and full of promises. What we need more in this big tossed bowl of humanity is the best kind of homemade dressing available which I found on Sesame Street. Sesame Street has taught us that the true litmus test for success is not always how many times we succeed but how quickly we get back up after falling.

In times of crisis, it’s easy to point fingers; it’s simpler to find sacrificial lambs. They are low hanging fruits, easy for the picking. But in these times, we need to reconnect with our inner self. The Big Bird and the Kermit within us.

Individuals who are anchored on goodness, good faith and are willing to do whatever is required to left up their organizations and their community. Real leaders don’t grow wary of crisis. They don’t get tired of being brave because they recognize that more success awaits them the day after failure. For them, failure is not the end but a realistic feedback. There is a message here for all those who have been adversely impacted by the financial downturn. The message is that of perseverance and redemption.

Sesame Street means much more than alphabets and numbers; to me it’s a mirror of what we should all strive to be. It’s the best of America because it shows our follies, celebrates our strengths and reminds us all that we all can live in harmony on the street called humanity.

Happy 40th to all my friends on my favorite street.

soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. mike Jones

    A moving esaay indeed. Wishing all my friends another 40 years and then some

    November 12, 2009 at 3:33 pm |
  2. Tim Gibson

    Yet, sesame street does not have the corruption we have on the hill, which is our greatest area of disconnect.

    November 12, 2009 at 3:21 pm |
  3. Paulette

    This is hands down the best article that I have read in months. I am not an American, I live in Canada, but do believe that what you have so beautifully written applies to us all no matter what country we live in. Thank you so much for writing this article, I hope that it is read by many.

    November 12, 2009 at 2:53 pm |
  4. Linnea

    Wonderfully said! I'd never thought about this, but you're right on target. Sesame Street is idealistic about how society can and should be, but doesn't gloss over the reality, either. If only we had more of these kinds of shows instead of emptyheaded sitcoms.

    November 12, 2009 at 2:18 pm |