Real life-quotes from inner city kids are brought to life in a shocking “Sesame Street”-style series, shedding light on the lessons better left unlearned. By Seyi Peter-Thomas.
“Everyone on my street knows when you hear guns, you gotta duck, dodge, and roll.” — Antonio, age 9
Heartbreaking truths like Antonio’s, along with dozens of other “life lessons,” are learned each day by children living in underprivileged urban areas rife with poverty, violence, and drugs. In a shocking series from VML/Kansas City and Station director Seyi Peter-Thomas, “educational” songs were derived from the harrowing, and unfortunately common, experiences of Youth Ambassadors participants, like what to do to stave off hunger or in the event of a shoot-out. To amplify the message, the team tapped into a well-known childhood medium — a colorful Sesame Street-style puppet show — to craft a series of shorts named “Welcome to My Neighborhood.”
“I knew instantly when I read the concept that it would be a very exciting tightrope walk,” Seyi says. “It was crucial that we struck the exact right tone to tell these all-too-serious stories in a genre that we normally think of as light and frivolous.” With the help of A-list puppeteers and the catchy, upbeat tunes, there is a stark contrast crafted through the juxtaposition of the positivity of typical American children’s programming and the grim realities learned by the large demographic of kids trapped in a cycle of poverty.
The Kansas City Youth Ambassadors program seeks to change these patterns by raising awareness and putting a spotlight on the children and teens fighting to make their voices heard. As such, the video series was unveiled at a fundraising event in Kansas City in the spring. Branded as the lessons that no one should have to learn, the audience was visibly more and more uncomfortable with each passing film — exactly as intended by the creators. Watching the films is not half as uncomfortable as having to learn those lessons.
The audience is meant to understand that something is very wrong, and the question is: How do we make it right?