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  • Chris

My Diversity Hero

I distinctly remember, as a child, laying on the floor in front of the tv and lapping up every moment of 'The Muppet Show' and occasionally 'Sesame Street'. Without realising it, I was immersing myself into a diverse world of characters, all exploring social constructs and showing acceptance of each other in their own world. Importantly, doing it in a way that nobody realised we are looking at difference.

Kermit sang about how difficult it was being green.

Fozzy Bear hid his obvious depression and anxiety with comedy.

Miss Piggy was a front runner of many a gay icon - a powerful diva that ruled the roost.

Over to Sesame Street and Oscar the Grouch - a representation of a homeless character that lived in a dustbin. Still shown respect and included by the others on the street.

Bert and Ernie, sharing a bath, sharing a bed. Nobody thought it was different.

In South Africa, Sesame Street introduced a character that was HIV+. Kami teaches basic facts about HIV and also addresses the stigma that many South Africans faced when living with it.

In 2016, they introduced their first Afghan Muppet Zari, a character who promotes girls’ rights.

All of this owes everything to one man. Jim Henson. The man is actually a lifetime hero of mine and would definitely make my fantasy dinner party list. What he understood is that we are all different. We all have insecurities. We all have elements of our life that other may judge. We all need a tribe. We all need a community. Boy did he provide a community with The Muppets.

Muppets are a simple concept. They have a fabric body, googly eyes, an unkempt mop of hair, some exaggerated mannerisms.

So simple to create and yet Henson is well documented as seeing his creations as being created with the ability to communicate complex truths about reality - in as simple a way as they are created.

It's reported that, when Henson brought his creative teams together, he had something deeper in mind: changing people’s lives. He once said “Let’s think of an idea that will bring peace to the world in our lifetime.” It was this statement that led to the creation of 'Fraggle Rock' in the early 80's.

A children's programme will likely never change the world, but it did teach us how to live peaceful, compassionate lives. Henson’s hope was that teaching children to consider other perspectives would ultimately result in a kinder world.

Sesame Street still waves the inclusivity flag today. This recent article shares insight into 'How Sesame Street Uses Muppets To Teach Inclusion' - an invaluable approach to teach children that difference is ok. It's better than ok. It should be celebrated.

By its sheer nature, diversity comes in many shapes and forms. We are all diverse. We all have different characteristics, we all have flaws. There's something to celebrated about a simple puppeteer who captured the essence of that and shared it with the world.

I even chose the image for this blog as a reflection of the love I have for Jim Henson. His ability to create a character is unrivalled. His mission to make the world a kinder place, unbeaten and his love of human nature? Well that's just world class.

What a way to educate, share diverse characters and get people over the hangups they have about difference. We are all different. I'm different. I knew I was different growing up - and with The Muppets, The Fraggles, and the residents of Sesame Street - I had a view of a diverse world. A world where I would find my place one day. My own street, my own Muppet theatre - my own cave under a lighthouse.

I think the only way to finish writing this blog is to leave the final words to my hero. Jim Henson.

“Here’s some simple advice,” Henson once wrote. “Always be yourself.”

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