HARLINGEN, Texas (KVEO) — A Brownsville native and puppeteer has become a part of one of the most loved children’s series and is helping take on racial issues through the role.
For decades, the PBS television series ‘Sesame Street’ has brought fun educational and cultural lessons to the homes of millions with the help of iconic and loved characters.
Throughout the years, the series has added characters that create an opportunity to teach on subject matters often difficult to explain to children.
In times where conversations about race and racism have reignited, Sesame Street has not shied away from helping parents and children communicate regarding those matters.
Helping with these efforts, you can now find 22-year-old, Performing Puppeteer and Brownsville native, Bradley Freeman Jr.
Freeman recently revealed his role as Wesley Walker, a 5 year old Black Muppet who became a part of Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind Sesame Street, on March 23.
The roles of Wesley and his dad, Elijah Walker, performed by Chris Thomas Hayes, are intended to help facilitate conversations about race and racism between children and parents.
As a longtime fan of the series, Freeman said he is honored to become a part of the platform and its history through this role.
“I googled Sesame Street just a minute ago and I came out right on that front page, so it’s really crazy to be a part of Sesame Street in that way, and then to be a part of this initiative that means so, so, so much to me and so many families across America and across the world even,” said Freeman. “I’m so grateful to even be a part of it; it’s incredible.”
Videos of Freeman’s character have been released on the Sesame Workshop website.
One of the videos, explains skin color in classic Sesame Street fashion, straightforward and simple for kids to understand.
While for Freeman, landing a role of Sesame Street is a surreal accomplishment in itself, as a person of mixed race, the role adds another level of significance.
“I can feel it in my chest, the weight of what this is and what Wes is actually feeling because I am feeling the exact same thing, I’m also angry sad and confused, but by the end of the script Wes feels better because of the way that everything is explained,” said Freeman.
Freeman said he is learning alongside Wes on how to navigate these conversations.
Having grown up in a predominantly Hispanic community, Freeman said he was able to blend in with those around him, but after moving to San Antonio he was exposed to more diversity and came to see what it was like to be treated differently based on skin color.
“[Skin color] doesn’t make anyone more or less valuable and I think that’s really important for people to learn, especially, especially from a young, age and I’m so glad that Sesame is tackling this topic and can’t tell you how proud I am to be a part of it,” said Freeman.
Earning the role was an achievement long in the making; Freeman said he began teaching himself the craft of puppeteering as early as first grade, after realizing that the show was more realistic than other popular characters at the time.
“I used to explore the bonus features on Muppet DVD’s and see that there were performers under there, and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, people are doing that, I want to do that,’” explained Freeman.
He explained that the tangibility of the characters helped him form a connection with the Muppets.
“I love Toy Story, I love Pixar, but I can’t reach out and shake Buzz’s hand, you know, I can’t give the real Buzz a hug, but I can give Kermit a hug,” explained Freeman. “[Elmo] was real to me.”
Puppeteering became a part of Freemans identity; he carried around puppets at school, using them for presentations and to make people smile.
As former student at Brownsville Veterans Memorial Early College High School, he credits various programs within the district, like band, A/V, and theater, that helped develop his skills and further along his career.
His introduction to Sesame Street came when he was selected for a workshop where he learned from some of the performers on the series. Martin P. Robinson, who performs as Telly Monster, Mr. Snuffleupagus and Slimey, kept in touch with Freeman and was the one who encouraged him to audition for the role.
Freeman laughs as he remembers hyperventilating in the middle of Target when he received the email offering him the role.
“You don’t believe that it’s gonna happen,” said Freeman. “I always wanted it, I never knew if it would happen, I always hoped it would happen. But I just tried my best to make sure that I was being a good person, being the best that I could be and bringing people joy.”