Diversity Woman Magazine

SUM 2017

Leadership and Executive Development for women of all races, cultures and backgrounds

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32 D I V E R S I T Y W O M A N S u m m e r 2 0 1 7 d i v e r s i t y w o m a n . c o m made me realize at a very young age how important diversity is and how important it is to learn and appreciate other people's cultures. Diversity and tolerance, in my mind, are the answers to everything." ese were the principles that drove Sesame Street as well. e program was consciously developed to present racial and gen- der diversity to American children. In fact, her father was hired specifically to oversee the segments focusing on the diversity of the different characters. "On the very first episode of Sesame Street [November 10, 1969], my father took a young girl on a tour of Sesame Street," says Peete. "He introduced the show to the world. When you think about it, that was very profound for its time. You have all these people and characters living on this block in New York. Everyone was different, and their differences were celebrated. is was very deliberate, and it changed the face of TV forever and helped Americans to understand that even if they didn't live in a diverse neighborhood like that, others did, and it was a positive thing." When Peete was nine, her world was turned upside-down— and her education around inclusiveness was put to a test. Her parents were divorcing, and she moved with her mother (Do- lores, a former teacher-turned-talent manager) to Los Ange- les, and her father came later, where he launched a successful career as a writer and producer on a number of TV shows, in- cluding e Cosby Show, e Waltons, and Sanford and Son. ey lived in predominantly white Santa Monica, and Peete was the only African American girl in the school. "at was where I first encountered racism," she says. "It was my first time feeling like I was different—and that different wasn't always good." She adjusted by following her brother Matthew's lead. He was a couple of years older, and he embraced how different everyone else was. "He took the lessons we learned in Mount Airy and applied them to Santa Monica. I eventually adapted. at experience taught me how to adapt to pretty much any- body and anything in life." Some of her classmates—including Robert Downey Jr., Sean Penn, and Rob Lowe—were already launching careers in Hollywood. She longed to join them, but her father would not let her. He wanted her to put education first and didn't want her to catch the acting bug and become one-dimensional. "My father was a very educated man," she says. "His father was a writer, a columnist for the Negro newspaper in Philadel- phia, but he wasn't hired to write for the regular newspapers because he was black. I think my dad carried a lot of that in his B IG BIRD. KERMIT THE FROG. e Cookie Monster. Bert and Ernie. Roosevelt Franklin. ese are some of the beloved Sesame Street characters who guided pretty much every Ameri- can under the age of 50 through childhood. But for actress, author, and activist Holly Robinson Peete, these weren't simply fictional characters—they were family. In 1969, the Children's Televi- sion Workshop hired Peete's father, Matt Robinson, to join an innova- tive project—creating an educa- tional and, just as important, entertaining show for children that didn't talk down to them. Robinson was one of the show's first writers and producers. He was also one of the first stars, as the voice of Muppet Roosevelt Franklin, a scat-talking, poetry-citing brainiac. In addition, he portrayed Sesame Street's first human character, Gordon Robinson, an empathetic schoolteacher. As Holly was growing up in Philadelphia, her father would sometimes put her friends on the show. is drove Holly, who loved to act and entertain, nuts. "Why, can't I be on the show, Daddy?" she would ask him over and over. "I found it unbearable that I was the daughter of Gordon and yet I couldn't get on the show, but all my friends on my block were on it!" she laughs nearly 50 years later. Finally, he relented. "And I blew it," says Peete. "I was given one line. I was to say to my father, 'Hi Gordon.' Instead I said, 'Hi Daddy.' It was so embarrassing! It was my first television humiliation, and I still remember it to this day." I n some respects, Holly Robinson Peete (she is married to for- mer NFL quarterback Rodney Peete) grew up in a diversity petri dish, unusual for its time. Her parents raised Holly and her brother in Mount Airy, a section of Philadelphia marked by its racial and religious diversity. It has been frequently ac- knowledged as one of the first integrated neighborhoods in the United States. "I grew up in this inclusive neighborhood where pretty much every block had people of different cultures and races," she says. "It was just a beautiful melting pot. Across the street were the Goldberg twins. We were the same age, and we celebrated Ha- nukkah with them, and they celebrated Christmas with us. It OPEN > SESAME

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