Go Make Friends (with Michael Levine & Makeda Mays Green) | Crooked Media
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August 03, 2021
Pod Save The People
Go Make Friends (with Michael Levine & Makeda Mays Green)

In This Episode

DeRay, Kaya, Sam, and De’Ara cover the underreported news of the week, including small town prisons, #SheWillRise, reductions in the poverty rate, and reverse search warrants. DeRay interviews Michael Levine and Makeda Mays Green from Nickelodeon about how kids interact with entertainment.

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DERAY: Hey, this is DeRay and welcome to Pod Save The People. In this episode, it’s me, Sam Sinyangwe as usual talking about the news that you don’t know. We were not together this week so we put in our pieces of news separately, we’re still here. Then I had this really fascinating conversation with Michael Levine and Makeda Mays Green from Nickelodeon and they talk about Nickelodeon’s education program, what they’re doing around race and justice, screen time, learned a ton, had no clue that this much went into it. I mean, what did I think? I don’t know, but I learned. I hope you can learn too, here we go.

My advice for this week is to make friends. I feel like as you get older your circle sort of closes a little bit, you have your friends, they are your friends, you meet new people but you should have put your energy where your energy’s been. I’ve been so blessed to– I’ve gone on just lunches, coffee, with people I meet just to learn more about them and to actually know them so we can really be friends and every single time it’s been beautiful. So I’d say be proactive of making friends whether Zoom, the phone, FaceTime, reach out to people, grow your circle, don’t let you growing older be an excuse for you to not let people in your life or not to be in the lives of other people.

Let’s go. So my news this week is about the myth that prisons have about the economy. So most prisons and jails get built today if they’re going to get built and a lot of the older ones have been built in suburbs and rural communities partly because that’s where the land was. So if you’re trying to build a 2,000 bed facility, 5,000 bed facility, normally it’s just not enough space in a city today to build it. So a lot of towns were promised that this would be the real economic boom. So it’s a town of 1,000 people, they get a facility that needs 500 people to run it, it’s a jail which means it’s the government, which means that they will definitely pay you, they’ll be jobs. This whole promise.

In this article that is put out by the Marshall Project is called small towns used to see prisons as a boom now many don’t want them. It specifically focuses on Nebraska and how in Nebraska there were towns that were promised that these prisons would really be a boom and they actually just turned out to not be. So they talk about the mayor of Ashland, Nebraska, he was approached last year about the possibility of hosting a prison and he’s like, “You know what? People don’t want that here.”

His town has about 2,100 people in it and the people in his town want to work in the cities, in Omaha and Lincoln. They actually don’t want to have a facility in the town that relies on local labor because they don’t want to work there.

What we find when the wash happens, when it all comes down is that the data, the research actually shows is that the numbers don’t pan out. That these prisons in communities actually don’t lead to an increased sustained economy, don’t lead to economic growth. You find that the government was lying to people. The government was seducing people to support the expansion of prisons in a self-interested way, this idea that they’d actually benefit from it and guess what? They didn’t.

Now they got a jail in their backyard, they didn’t want the jail there, it is people coming in who don’t live in their tiny community, it’s people driving in from other places to work there because somebody has to work there now they built it. This to me was just a reminder that we don’t need to build new facilities to lock people up that most of the reasons that people give you for why it might be a good thing are either scams or just not very good reasons and the third is that you see the long term effect of these things. You see the town that thought they were going to win by locking people up, they didn’t, and now they’re stuck with it.

It’s like that’s actually what you get, you should have asked the questions on the front end and I’m happy now that people are being honest about it being like, “You know what? I don’t want to.” In Nebraska, the case study here is that they want to build a new facility which they don’t need and they are putting bids out and people are bidding on it. Cities don’t want it, towns don’t want it, and it’s like, “Yes, we actually just should not be building new cages for people, that should not be the model of the way we think about rehabilitation and certainly not the model of the way that we think about accountability.”

The article is really fascinating, because it just goes through and reminds us all and even the Republicans have to contend with that, especially when you think about across the country we’re thankfully incarcerating less people and even in places where incarceration is increasing, it’s not clear that we need to build all these new facilities. We also don’t need to have people on probation and parole paying for their anklets and stuff, that’s a whole other crisis and a whole other nightmare that we also don’t need but this is my news I learned a lot.

WOMAN: My news comes from People Magazine this week, it’s extraordinary actually. It’s about a group of black women, a collective of black women really who founded an organization called She Will Rise. What it is an initiative led by these black women and they want to make sure that President Biden keeps his promise to appoint a black woman for Supreme Court justice when the next chance arises.

It looks like that next chance would be with the imminent stepping down or retiring really, it’s retirement for Justice Stephen Breyer. It’s speculated that he will retire from the Supreme Court or is the next in line to retire and that would make a position open and then we would obviously have to hold President Joe Biden accountable for appointing a black woman.

So She Will Rise is this incredible organization that thank goodness we have an organization like this is actually naming what is happening and also holding Joe Biden and the administration quite frankly I’m accountable for making sure that a black woman is appointed to the Supreme Court. They’ve started a petition, they have a massive social media presence.

It’s really just the beginning for this organizations, the founders really want to lift up other black women so the path to the Supreme Court and other judicial appointments becomes easier. As we know, President Trump set records when it came to judicial appointments and so now we are really having to play catch up with this administration.

There have been some really great appointments made and so we want to continue with that we really want to send our black women in those appointments. Obviously that’s my but also the belief of She Will Rise. she Will Rise is founded by Sabria Williams, April Rain, Brandy Calendar, and my dear sister friend who I’ve admired since I was in the ninth grade, Kimberly Tigno. Kim is actually executive director for the Institute of intellectual property and social justice. All of these women, you probably know their names but they are accomplished and brilliant in their own right.

So I was really impressed with Kim said here in this article. She said, “How is it that one of the most engaged voting demographics being black women is still underrepresented in every branch of the government?” She went on to say that this must be because of the intersection of sexism and racism just hits different, it hits harder, it uglier, and from all angles.

So Kim, April, Sabria, Brandy, these incredible women really hope that someday the Supreme Court will obviously reflect back to the voting demographics when it comes to black women be representative of black women on the Supreme Court but also just reflect widely the demographics of the United States. So I just found this to be so compelling, I’m going to follow She Will Rise, I hope you all follow she will rise and continue to support this organization and others who are trying to get black women and progressive women, humans and otherwise into these judicial appointments.

There were two big things that occurred to me after reading this article. The first one is when black women put their mind to something we get things done. So I’m inspired that this group of sisters have decided to take this matter into their hands, that they are working to help people understand who these potential nominees are, that they’re putting pressure on Democratic machine. This is the kind of forward thinking that needs to be happening regularly that I don’t think we’ve seen from the Democratic Party.

The second thing about this article is it pissed me off that we are literally in a situation where Justice Breyer is not willing to retire so that we can ensure a progressive voice on the Supreme Court. If you haven’t been paying attention to the Supreme Court politics over the last five to seven years then you have to be living under a rock.

We lost a chance with Justice Ginsburg, who we all love and hindsight is 2020. But to make the same mistake twice and to watch this white man hold on to power instead of sharing power, instead of taking a long term approach for the betterment of our country and our society really just makes my blood boil. My hope, my prayer, is that he will do the right thing for America, that the Democratic Party will do the right thing and lean on him so that we can secure that seat for a progressive Democrat on the court, it is one of our only chances.

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SAM: Hey, it’s Sam. For my news today I want to talk about the poverty rate because what we have seen according to a new study from the urban Institute is the single largest reduction in the US poverty rate in recorded history. A 45% decrease in the poverty rate relative to what it was in 2018. So how do we get here in the middle of a pandemic because I know you’re thinking, wait didn’t everything just get worse in the middle of a pandemic?

Yes, but what this data shows, what this study shows from the urban Institute is that existing government programs provide relief to people in poverty, programs like food stamps and unemployment assistance combined with new pandemic related emergency measures and relief programs like the stimulus checks, the expansions and additional money tied to unemployment assistance, expansions in the safety net that were passed during COVID.

Because of the combined effect of those government programs we’ve actually seen a reduction in the poverty rate in the middle of the pandemic and the reduction is stark. So let me dive into the numbers here. First of all, these programs weren’t cheap, we’re talking about a $ trillion being spent. It’s like what do we get for a trillion dollars? Well it turns out a lot. Because for a $ trillion you could end poverty the United States it seems. Because let’s dive into how much of an effect these programs had. Now, poverty rate without the programs they project if we didn’t have any of these relief programs, any of government benefits what would happen to people in the middle of the pandemic?

Well, the poverty rate would be projected to be 23% nationwide, what is it now? 7.7% that’s 67% fewer people in poverty relative to what otherwise would have been the case without these government benefits. Now let’s break that down by race and let’s break that down by place, because there is also stock. Now for white people, 16% were projected to be in poverty without government programs. If they didn’t exist no government benefits, no government assistance, you hear people say they don’t want government help shouldn’t have handouts yada yada without any of that for white people the poverty rate would be 16%. What is it now? 5.8%. OK

So those programs clearly helped. 63% fewer white people are in poverty today because of those programs. Now let’s dis aggregate this further for black people. 36% poverty rate without any of these programs projected, 36%. With these programs in place, with the stimulus checks, with the government benefits, expansion of unemployment insurance, expansion food stamps, support, the poverty rate is now 74% lower than it otherwise would be for black people.

So instead of 36%, 9.2%. Now, that’s still higher than the 5.8% for white people. So the inequality remains. The absolute level of poverty is dropping across the board the inequality still remains so important note. But let’s look at what this actually means in real terms. So there are about 45 million Black people in America, 10.5 million are not in poverty today who would be in poverty today if not for these government interventions. Policy matters folks, investments matter. Got to invest in communities.

Let’s look at Latinos. Poverty rate projected without the programs currently would be 37% instead 11.8%. The 68% fewer Latinos in poverty because of these programs. Asian Pacific Islanders, 23% would be in poverty without these programs, 10.8% instead because of these programs, 54% fewer people in poverty who are Asian Pacific Islander.

So across the board huge reductions in the poverty rate, especially for kids, especially for kids relative to what it otherwise would have been there are 81% fewer kids in poverty today, that’s wild. That means we’re on the road to ending child poverty but it’ll only happen if we continue to build upon and expand upon the investments that have started to make a difference in millions of people’s lives.

Now, one of the things that was important about this study is they pointed out that among the various investments. Now there are a lot of things both existing programs that were in effect for folks who fall into the poverty line and programs that are new passed under the pandemic and what they find is among these programs they’re all important, they all play a role in bringing those numbers down but they said that the federal stimulus checks have a larger anti-poverty impact than any of the other programs.

If all of the programs were in place but the stimulus checks had not been paid the urban Institute projects 12.4 million more people would be in poverty in 2021, 12.4 million more people without the stimulus checks. Now food stamps snap 7.9 million people are kept out of poverty because of that and unemployment insurance benefits lower the number of people in poverty by 6.7 million.

So those are three programs. 12.4 million impacted kept out of poverty through the stimulus checks, 7.9 million people through the food stamps, and 6.7 million people for the unemployment insurance benefits, there’s your impact. Now a lot of these programs are set to expire, a lot of the extra benefits that were passed during the pandemic are set to expire.

These are things that have had to be fought for as you know, we’ve had to fight for every round of these stimulus checks, for every round of everything now fighting around the eviction moratorium being extended. So keep up the fight because literally these programs are putting us on a path to ending poverty in the United States but it will only happen if we not only maintain these investments but expand them, now let’s get to work.

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KAYA: My news this week comes out of Vox and it’s an article about how the police can get your data even if you aren’t suspected of a crime. Now what you might ordinarily expect that in criminal investigations as long as law enforcement has a subpoena or a court order or a warrant, they can get your data from a data company or a social media company or a mobile company and those are the rules, that if they secure one of those things that they can get your data, unless there is cause to believe that there’s imminent danger, then they can move a little bit differently.

However, it turns out that even if you are not under criminal investigation there are a number of other ways that law enforcement can get your data. In fact, as we look at the FBI building cases against the January 6 insurrectionists, the FBI was able to obtain internal records from a variety of social media platforms and mobile carriers to build their cases and part of the reason why is because in these privacy policies that none of us read, you know what I mean? The new privacy policy comes up you scroll all the way down and click I accept without ever reading it. In fact, one of the things that it says and it privacy policies is that your data can be shared with law enforcement.

There’s a broad rule called the Electronic Communications Privacy Act that governs the sharing of electronic data but it was enacted in 1986 and it needs some updating. So if any company collects and stores your data the chances are the police can get their hands on it. The police are using a bunch of different tactics to get your data. So first of all, they can purchase location data from data brokers it’s called geofencing and they’ll ask for all of the devices in a certain area at a certain time.

They can purchase facial recognition data from Clearview AI even though there’s lots of evidence that facial recognition technology is flawed. They can do keyword warrants, where they ask for all of the IP addresses that search for a certain keyword and they use tactics like reverse search warrants to grab data from groups of people, large groups of people and they hope to find a suspect among them.

So this is pretty concerning because you may never even know that law enforcement has your data and in a worst case scenario sometimes they will arrest and target innocent people because they’ve been swept up in these kind of mass surveillance techniques. Some of the social media companies and other companies produce transparency reports with details about how many requests they get from law enforcement and government, what types of requests and how many are fulfilled.

But for the most part, once you click “Accept” on those privacy policies your data can end up in the hands of police again, without you ever even knowing about it and in some cases with the police misusing your data. So I brought this to the pod because I just think we need to be aware of this, we need to think deeply about how we use our technology and how we work to maintain our privacy and I thought not a lot of people were paying attention to this and so I hope folks will take this into consideration.

DERAY: And to Kaya’s new, I feel like I’m always learning something new. I definitely knew that the police had broad power to get access to your information that is wild. These sort of fall in the legal gray area? I didn’t know that at all. The article talks about this notion of a reverse search warrant like not starting out with the suspect but starting out with a broad idea and then back into a suspect, wild. I didn’t know that.

I’d heard about Clearview, Clearview’s the company that has facial recognition. I think I just like it didn’t click to me that the Police Department’s actually buying this information. There are police departments actually buying location data and mass. They are buying facial recognition data and then using it in custom programs as a way to get around having to go through search warrants and things like that, that is really special.

Now. What this article also reminded me is that we need to update the privacy laws and most of the laws around the internet and in our privacy were written in the 80s update a little bit but don’t reflect just the sheer pace with which the Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram– the pace at which all of this has changed our laws need to reflect that. Because the police have an incredible power to help people’s lives to stop people’s lives to incarcerate people and the public has very little recourse when they start moving.

SAM: Kaya, thanks for bringing this to the pod because this is a subject that just keeps– it seems getting worse and worse and worse over time when it comes to police surveillance. They get access to all of this technology and what this article goes into is the ways in which they can purchase data on people, just commercially available data. Not people who’ve been suspected of crimes, people who they’re actually investigating, just like a treasure trove of information about millions of people who might be loosely connected with somebody who they might be interested in investigating, in other cases might have just been in the same location at the same time.

We’re talking about location data and where people have been, when they were there. Information on who they called and how long they talk to them. Information on– talk about license plate readers, so basically wherever you are they tag you where you are as you’re driving past particular locations. Then you have Clearview AI which I know we talked about in previous episodes but there’s a facial recognition company that sells law enforcement access to its facial recognition database. Which is just millions and millions of photos and images of people that are then able to be tracked by law enforcement, and scanned.

Potentially, and there’s a huge fear about this, used in concert with technologies like body cameras to essentially do the whole Robocop thing where you can look around scan an environment with a body camera, immediately recognize using facial recognition technology who everybody is, pull up track records, et cetera. And basically hunt people down which is a nightmare frightening scenario.

So all of those things are being experimented, are being developed, are technologies the police have access to, have all of these resources in their budgets to purchase and use and things that the public really– like we don’t have any of this. We talk about tracking police violence, we’re largely dependent on information that the police report or information that the media reports from information they receive from the police.

We don’t have access to all of the security Cam footage for every police shooting. We don’t have access to all of the facial recognition databases to identify all of the officers in particular places in particular times who might be using predictive tools that are involved in misconduct. I mean, there’s a huge asymmetry in information, in data, in resources. So that’s sort of what we’re seeing here is this is hugely problematic that this is in the hands of the police, the ways that they’re using this technology and we’re also completely outgunned in terms of our ability to fight back.

So that’s why we need legislation, we need the government to step in to restrict and prohibit the police from purchasing these technologies, from purchasing these data sets and that’s where the fight is headed.

DERAY: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save The People, stay tuned there’s more to come.

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DERAY: Now my conversation with Michael Levine and McWilliams green from Nickelodeon. I learned a ton from them, it made me appreciate how intentional the programming is for young adults and kids and I hope that you learned something too, here we go. Makeda and Dr. Levine, thanks so much for joining us today on Pod Save The people.

Dr. LEVINE: Pleasure to be here.

DERAY: I’m excited for this conversation can you start by telling us how you got to Nickelodeon or Noggin or the Nick world.

Dr. LEVINE: So I am a recent newcomer to Nickelodeon and to its preschool learning service, Noggin in with the company just over a year. My background is in child development research public policy and philanthropy some of your listeners might know of some of the work that I have done previously at Sesame Street with Sesame Workshop, where I oversaw learning and knowledge development there but I’ve kind of been in the educational media and social impact space for a long period of time and knew Makeda and she’s one of the people who recruited me over to Nickelodeon and she can tell you her own story.

MAKEDA: I’m so excited to have you over here. Michael, it’s such a pleasure to be working with you in this capacity at Noggin. I actually began my career over at Sesame Street which is where I had the opportunity to really cut my teeth when it comes to the work around creating content and conducting research as it pertains to children and their most pressing needs. so I was director of education and research there before coming over to Nickelodeon where I now have been for nine years leading the digital consumer insights team and working very closely with Michael and a bunch of other folks who are extremely dedicated to this space.

MICHAEL: Noggin like a lot of other educational media platforms and companies have been growing just a tremendous amount. So it’s been just a really interesting moment to respond to the COVID crisis as well as the crisis of racial injustice, the second pandemic that’s rolling our country and putting together a team kind of remotely has been both exciting and daunting. I’m sure we’ll use this conversation to tell you about some of the ways in which we’ve been responding. But it has been both unusual and a privilege to try to do this work during these extraordinary times.

DERAY: Which shows are on Noggin that we might know?

MAKEDA: We have a bunch. I think you would know Paw Patrol very well. You’d be familiar with some of our characters on Bubble Guppies. One of the nice things about the content on Noggin is that it is extremely inclusive when it comes to characters as well as story lines and so in addition to being a media professional, I’m also a mom of 3 and my youngest daughter is six years old a huge fan of Noggin. So she likes to keep me informed all the times, “Mom I’m helping you work.” I’m like, “I actually worked on that all day today, Johnny.”

DERAY: Paw Patrol.

LEVINE: Dora the Explorer.

DERAY: Dora?

MICHAEL: Team Umizoomi, new shows like Santiago of the Seas. So these are the longer form, episodic content. If you want to watch and sit back like 11 minutes or 22 minutes, the kind of stuff that most kids and moms and dads would think about as educational television. But what Noggin is really doing with that as part of our DNA, is creating our own original content in our own interactive content. So we would take Dora the Explorer or a Paw Patrol and maybe combine the pups with Dora in an interactive game that’s teaching kids math and literacy skills as well as what we refer to when Noggin is big heart skills. So and then we’re also–

DERAY: Big heart skills.

MICHAEL: Big heart skills, yeah. So we’re very much engaged in thinking about social and emotional development Noggin. This is a moment of course for all families who have been isolated in the last year and want their kids to go on virtual play dates with their sidekicks and their friends. But it’s also a time to kind of introduce ways in which kids can get off the screen so that when they go back to child care and preschool and elementary school, they’ll have those big heart skills. Not only to empathize or to resolve a dispute productively but also we’ve considered big heart schools to include the generosity, the fairness, and the equality gene as well. So that we’ve uniquely I think added a social justice dimension to our ethical, social, and emotional development dimension.

DERAY: My gut tells me that people either watch the same shows over and over or they just like we’re in front of TVs more that is true, right?

MICHAEL: It varies, so we can tell you like Makeda looks as part of her job at all these different trends. The transition from watching longer form episodes, it used to be a half hour but it was really 22 minutes. Down to how much time are they spending on a game or how much time are they spending on an ebook.

MAKEDA: When it comes to our audience in particular with younger kids we see that they love agency and they love the power to choose, the power of choice . That’s one of the things that I think the Noggin experience affords them, the opportunity to select a content that is most appealing to them, to choose active time to spend with their friends.

We’ve often talk about our Nickelodeon, our junior shows and Noggin content is characters but kids really consider them their friends and so they’re able to connect with their friends either via a lean back experience or a lean in experience where they can actually engage but one of the things that we often talk about is the power of those characters. The power of those friends, being able to leverage those power social relationships because we know that kids learn best when they have a trusted guide and we have plenty of trusted guides in the context of our Noggin ecosystem.

MICHAEL: That term that she just used, DeRay, para social relationship is one that’s grounded in a deep set of research. So we’ve done research when I was at Sesame Workshop but also at Nickelodeon and Noggin that shows said that the children actually will be encouraged to do something that is pro social or pro health if the characters do it. If Elmo or Dora were to tell you to try broccoli you’d be so much more likely to eat healthy than if a character you didn’t recognize asked you to do that. In fact at Sesame, we found that you could ask a kid to choose between broccoli and chocolate and if Elmo preferred broccoli the kid preferred broccoli.

DERAY: I love it.

MICHAEL: That is until they actually ate it.

DERAY: That’s a trusted guide?

MICHAEL: Yeah, trusted, guide a para social relationship. A role model in a way is really what our characters mean to kids. Every kid you ask has a favorite character of some sort or a favorite passion of some sort and increasingly in the United States and around the world these characters are animated characters or live action characters but more and more animated characters of the kind that you will typically see on our platforms.

DERAY: How do you do the age ranges? Is it like we need a couple of shows 3- to 4-year-olds and then we have a couple of shows for like 6 to 10. 6 to 10 feels like a big range, maybe that’s not the right range. What are the ranges or how do you think about ages where you think about this?

MICHAEL: There’s two things here. There’s what’s developmentally appropriate in terms of the curriculum of the show. So at Noggin which is unique, we have the Noggin learning framework which looks at skills and knowledge across different kinds of domains like math and literacy would be obvious. But big heart social emotional learning might be a little less obvious and healthy habits and executive functioning sort of those brain skills.

Then we look across knowledge DOMAIN, So across that big framework we’re plugging in what’s appropriate for a kid to learn about social development math, science, et cetera against an age range that’s one, Makeda can comment on in terms of engagement for decades, organizations like Nickelodeon has sort of been perfecting what’s the profile of a 4-year-old and what are they really going to engage with and really love. So there’s a science also of engaging the child so that they will form that strong relationship with the character whether it’s curriculum based or not.

MAKEDA: I think that really dovetails into the reason we do so much research because we want to make sure that we are always speaking to our audience and learning from them. I always say we can sit-in a conference room or on Zoom all day and pontificate that the meaning of life. And what we think will work for kids, but it’s tell when we put our content in front of them are we truly know how we are best reaching our audience and addressing their needs.

So we’re looking at that is micromanaging it from thinking about kids chronological and developmental stages but also more specifically honing in on what is appealing to them. During this coronavirus pandemic, we’ve actually seen some of the older kids actually go back to content that is typically deemed to be more appealing for the younger kids and we think that is attributed to the fact that they’re looking for a sense of the familiar returning to that safe space. It’s been a very interesting time to be a part of the media industry.

DERAY: What has changed since the protests? How are you talking about race? How are you thinking about race? How does a Dora, or how does a Paw Patrol, a show about the police– how do these shows like set kids up to think about the world that they’re in or to think about inequity or to think about their own sort of role as people of color or white supremacy or all of those things what is your entrance to that?

MICHAEL: The coronavirus led to sort of a step back to see what could we do immediately around that public health emergency but within a month, Makeda and I were like it’s not just coronavirus that we need to urgently respond to. The interconnections between what the coronavirus was showing us in terms of the inequities that it was making so much more clear in our country led us to evolve the work that we’re doing at Noggin in a response to both the racial inequalities and the racial injustice and the public health emergency, which hopefully we’re finding our way out of now, but I don’t think so entirely.

So we had to face a number of important questions. One was look the kids were going to be on platforms. , I mean mom and dad needed something to help them out with their colleagues, their kids were their colleagues at home DeRay. Where we’re going to be about– the consumption opportunity was right there.

There was going to be more consumption, more business for us, all great, right? But we had to step back as a sort of a double bottom line company that’s why all of us came to Noggin. We had sort of a social purpose in mind. What was the purpose. What was the opportunity for transforming? Are we going to do it the same way and just sort of put a couple of bells and whistles around Paw Patrol and the other things that we had or we’re going to go for some sort of a transformation?

Were we going to go there alone or were we going to partner up with other kind of best in class organizations that really could help us? We’re going to base our work on growth marketing or we’re going to base it on evidence about what the kids actually needed in response to these two pandemics. I have to say that I’m so proud that we would go about expanding the right way. So the first thing we did was we made Noggin free. We made Noggin available to everybody for a few months.

We kind of paused selling and obviously we were all for conscious capitalism but we thought that it was a time to give away. We started up something called Noggin cares, which is our company’s commitment to giving Noggin away for free actually for as long as possible until all kids who are in need, so we created something with 30 different organizations, Head Start and First book and a number of different states.

We extended the learning with partners, we said that we own very valuable real estate in others right now we’re not able to reach large audiences. So we went over to NASA to Alvin Ailey, we went over to the Met which was shuttered and we said, what can we do together to use your rich content, your multiracial content, your multidimensional content and featured on Noggin. So we formed all these different partnerships and we also said to ourselves, kids should not be spending, perhaps more time on Noggin.

So let’s give them some other things to use Noggin as a catapult to– whether it was learning in school so we formed partnerships with charter school networks or designing and developing their own production. So we added art tools and music tools to the platform. We created a new podcast series to encourage active listening not just interacting and not focusing all the time. We recruited a youth worker to become our new head of a preschool variety show sort of a virtual classroom modeled after the best quality preschool in the world.

So Noggin Knows was created. We also for the first time decided that we had to reach out to our parents. And we didn’t know what they were thinking, what did they need? So we created with leaders from research and pediatrics, special shows like Navigating the New Normal. So the pandemic’s changed everything for us. And thank goodness in some respects it did because we were able to accelerate our progress through sort of a focus group leadership activity. So that Noggin is 100% different than it might have been.

DERAY: Let us know too what’s hard about it like what do we know about– I assume that there must be a way that we talk about these issues with kids something that we probably don’t know?

MAKEDA: One of the great things about working with this team, being a part of this rich organization is that we’ve always been committed to diversity representation, equity and inclusion. So we have a long history of making sure that we are doing our due diligence when it comes to understanding, acknowledging and taking on the responsibility that we have as a media organization.

So going back to some of the racial justice work Michael was talking about, back in 2019, a lot of folks talk about this period of racial reckoning as being something post George Floyd, but back in 2019, during the field conducting a research project, which we call Shades of Us, and that involved conversations. It was a big in-depth study conducted over multiple phases of research, both quant and qual, in various markets throughout the country involving over 15,000 kids and families, designed to help us really think about and understand more deeply how kids understand race and racial identity.

We also looked at the impact of the media on their development. So there’s some really interesting insights which I’m happy to share with you now but I just wanted to point that out because the fact that our research shows the number one place kids learn stereotypes is in school. Number two is on TV and in movies. What an awesome opportunity and responsibility we have to make sure that we get it right.

To make sure that we are putting forth empowering portrayals and allow all kids to see themselves in a positive light, it’s an immense responsibility and one that we never have taken lightly. Imagine if kids were put in a position to be able to cast media content, who would they put in those roles? Think about this intersectionality of race and gender, who would kids cast and we found that in terms of the hero across all kids the clear choice was casting a white boy selected by 52% of all kids compared to only 99% for black boy and 12% for Hispanic and Asian boys.

I mean that’s astounding, right? Because think back to what we were saying in terms of where kids are picking up messages about what resonates in their lives and who they are and how they see themselves reflected when we often talk about the windows in the mirrors. The fact that kids don’t necessarily see themselves as the hero is a problem.

So we are making a concerted effort to make sure that we are portraying diverse representations that showcase all kids as the hero. But I think more importantly, when you think about that work that’s being done off the screen from a social and emotional perspective as Michael mentioned, we want to make sure that we are also creating opportunities for kids to feel heroic in their own lives.

MICHAEL: So we’re creating new content and based on this research we’ve reached out to a wide new community of creators of color and some of your audience members might be familiar with the work of Chris Jackson, who’s played many very important characters including George Washington and Hamilton.

We approached him and production studio, an animation studio Clothesline for examination with this idea that could we call that those heroes. Could be show kids what it means to be a real life hero in some of the ways in which different actions that don’t seem so heroic but really lead to social change. Might be something that they could really recognize from as young as three and four-year-Olds.

Also together with Chris in line for the animation we created what’s become a very popular series called Rhymes Through Times, which is airing both on Noggin and on Nick Junior and has attracted millions and millions of views. The conceit of the broadcast is that important historical figures Ruby Bridges, Alvin Ailey, Katherine Dunham, other very important African-American individuals as well as other creators of color where kids want team and to take a look at their lives, especially people like Ruby Bridges who was just six years old when she stood up for justice.

And be able to connect that to a play that the children could actually understand that they could participate in with their favorite characters, might be a great way of teaching kids the equivalent of history and civics. Some people who’ve kind of reviewed the series referred to it as the Schoolhouse Rock of the 2020s. So we really are thinking carefully about how to use representation for purpose.

DERAY: Makeda, did you find anything else in that? Is there the idea that kids and– how old were the kids in that survey who chose the white hero?

MAKEDA: That was with older kids, 9 to 12 because you wanted them to take the survey on their own. Much of the work that’s done around representation in media is often based on content analysis. But we really feel if we want to get at the heart of how kids see themselves the best way to do that is to ask kids themselves.

DERAY: Did anything else come out of that survey that we should know?

MAKEDA: Well, I think when it comes to representation we also found that Black children were more than twice as likely as white kids to be cast as poor. We found in Asian youth were typecast often as the smart kid or the nerd. I think underscoring all of this is the perpetuation of stereotypes and what can we do as media/ content creators to dismantle them?

There’s a lot of work to be done. I think about what I saw when I was a kid one of the reasons I actually got into this industry, probably the main reason I got into this industry is because I was that child who was sitting at home in the chair longing to see some like myself. Longing to know that the person on the other side of that screen saw me.

I specifically remember hearing a show where they would recount different names and all I wanted– I see this person, I see that person. And I just want them to say that, I see Makeda. Because we know from research specifically research study that was done by Indiana University, the detrimental impact that can have on one self-esteem when you are misrepresented and underrepresented.

So this work, I consider it some of the most important work that I’ve ever done in my career, I’m extremely honored to partner with Michael and in so many other leaders in this industry specifically the teams at Noggin and Nickelodeon to make sure that we are getting the word out there and talking about ways in which we can make a brighter tomorrow for the kids of today.

MICHAEL: The other thing that the research has been showing with younger kids to your point is that parents are not– I don’t want to blame parents, I mean they’ve, had so much on their plate. But the research that we’ve done shows that parents are not having difficult conversations about race early enough. That especially for white parents, there is an imperative to begin to engage. And honestly the media industry, including ourselves bears are some of the responsibility in not giving parents these sorts of tools. So that’s part of what Mekeda and her team and my team are doing right now.

Mekeda, the racial justice guide that we’re beginning to develop might be something that will be of interest to DeRay. It won’t be out for several months but the research that is guiding us around, how can parents have the talk DeRay in a safe zone where nobody’s pointing fingers at each other but we’re an honest and candid conversation. Now exists about what it means to be an upstander, what it means to be an ally if you’re white. What it means to have these really, really difficult conversations about policing and about typical scenarios that happen every day to kids of color. So Makeda and team did a really interesting piece of research which perhaps you can say a little bit about.

MAKEDA: Wanted how kids and parents talk about race and racism. So we had eight scenarios that we put forth in front of kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old and their parents to actually see that these conversations were like. And from a methodological standpoint we conducted it over Zoom. We had our audio and video muted and it is really moving to hear the results of that conversation, the fact that egalitarian language is used more by white families than black families, right? This idea that color doesn’t MATTER, Colorblind messages were more pervasive among white families as compared to Black families but one thing we found is this universal truth, which is that all parents, regardless of race want to protect their children.

For some that protection is grounded in preserving their innocence, for others it’s grounded in preservation of life and we want to make sure that we are doing our part to help equip parents with the tools to have those very difficult conversations and that leads into the guy that Michael was talking about. It’s not easy for anyone we recognize that but if we can do anything to help facilitate the nature of those conversations and help parents guide their children and also be the guide for parents themselves because we know that conversations necessarily weren’t always had with the parents about race and so they also need support. So the support mechanism is something that we’re really trying to push forth in the next few months.

DERAY: What does that look functionally? I get it, is there a 10 minute thing message to parents? What is supporting parents look like?

MAKEDA: It’s actually just as it sounds, a guide. So providing some specific scenarios and these scenarios you want to be careful to point out. These are not scenarios that we’ve set in and were made up these are actually scenarios based on real life examples of things that parents across racial groups have experienced. There are scenarios such as being followed in a store, a black family being followed in the store by a security guard and asked to show proof of purchase while another white family is allowed to leave.

We have scenarios based on kids of different racial ethnic groups such segments but that gives you one example. What I do want to mention because this really hit home with me is the example of black hair products being locked up in a store not even able to go and browse the shelves and pick one off the shelf to see whether or not it’s something that might be useful to you or someone in your family.

We put these examples in front of kids and families, some parents are saying that that’s odd like, “Does that really happen?” You hear kids saying, “That’s weird, really?” But then at the same time you hear other parents saying, “Oh yes, remember that happened at the store I went to last week?” So this is grounded in reality. We’re also talk about in light of what’s happening with stop API hate.

We talk about incidents that kids and families have experienced related to that we talk about language and discrimination that comes along with speaking different languages. It is profound in that there is a lot of pain associated with these incidents but also we know that as a media organization we have an opportunity to provide purpose and how we can move forward and that I think continues to be a driving force for us.

MICHAEL: To be developing content that would be a supplement to the action guide. The content for example the big heart Initiative would include month by month talking about issues and topics such as feelings and the importance of taking a walk in another person’s shoes and the importance of resolving conflicts creatively or nonviolently or the importance of when you see something is wrong, how not to by-stand but how to up-stand.

So we’re trying to give all of our kids and our kids are– they range from two to six mostly there are some slightly older kids on our platform. So Nickelodeon clearly has children who are 6 to 10. So DeRay we’re really trying to give tangible content, whether it’s music or whether it’s a video game, scenarios like the ones that Makeda just shared from the research are things that we can model and show the kids in real time.

DERAY: How can people who are listening to this and they’re like, “Oh my goodness this is amazing.” How can they follow the work that you all are doing? How do they stay involved? If their parents who want to give feedback or something, I don’t know, how do people like stay in the loop with you? Because frankly, I didn’t even know y’all existed. I didn’t know they were like the people in the back room doing all the research on race and kids at Noggin. I didn’t know that. How do people find you all?

MICHAEL: First of all, they can subscribe, it’s a commercial free learning service that’s grown quite a lot and it’s going to be one of the industry leaders today. So noggin.com, wait for the free trial that’s coming up in a couple of weeks for 60 days and get your little ones and your friends involved in Noggin. So you can find logging on many, many different platforms, it’s interactive in that sense there are games and there’s a mobile app that you can get on any app store. And then if you just want to lean back experience you can view Noggin on Roku, and Amazon Prime, and Apple TV. So on all the platforms and if you choose to subscribe on one and you want to be on the others, we’ll give you the how to do that so that you can cross authenticate and all that stuff so that’s number one.

MAKEDA: On social media DeRay too. They can follow us on Facebook, they can follow us on Instagram. We have an incredible social team who is responsible for putting up posts to make sure that people know what we’re doing in Noggin through speaking to kids and families all of the time. So I think that’s another mechanism by which they can stay abreast of the great work that’s happening.

MICHAEL: Any one of your listeners can be in touch with me directly Michaelgalvin@nick.com, I answer all emails.

DERAY: There we go. There are two questions we ask everybody. The first is what’s a piece of advice that you’ve gotten over the years that stuck with you.

MICHAEL: My dad was a civil rights organizer, growing up as a young person our phones were tapped and one of the most important things that he taught me was to say whatever you want to say in public and private you act completely the same way. Full transparency in terms of your intentions and the second thing that I learned from my mom who is a clinician was that you need to have a plan but you need to be urgent.

I got my life in some ways I think in this podcast actually is one that I like to listen to because I plan my life around what I would call episodic serendipity. You get into a conversation with other folks with totally open mind and see where it goes and I am a big believer in the cosmos but in managing the cosmos for social purpose.

MAKEDA: I would have to say mine also comes from my dad. He passed away in 2006 but he would always tell me any job worth doing is worth doing well. I’ve always abided by that in everything because if you’re going to put forth the energy to engage in anything, you should give your best and I try to teach my children that same value. I bring that value to work with me every single day in all that I do because if you’re not going to give your best if you’re not seeking to make a meaningful difference then why bother? Any job worth doing is worth doing well.

The other piece is something actually I had the opportunity to hear directly from Oprah and it was to never forget who you are, always be your authentic self and authenticity is something that just runs through me. I work hard every day to show up as myself whether it’s going to be in a Zoom meeting or giving a larger presentation somewhere or perhaps conducting research with kids and families.

Being able to show up at your authentic self is always really important because I want kids and families to know that in spite of everything that they may be enduring, you are enough. You matter and you know when you go through life every day do so with meaning and with a mission. Part of the reason I’m in children’s media is because I always wanted to do mission based work and I really believe in following the mission. I always say, “Follow the mission not the money.”

DERAY: Follow the mission not money, words to live by. We appreciate you coming, we consider your friends in the pod and can’t wait to have you back.

MAKEDA: Thank you so much I love that.

MICHAEL: Thank you so much DeRay.

DERAY: Well that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning in the Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out. Make sure to rate it wherever you get your podcasts whether it’s Apple Podcasts or somewhere else and we’ll see you next week. Pod save the people is a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by Brock Wilbur and mixed by Bill Lancz, our executive producer is Jessica Cordova Kramer and myself. Thanks to our weekly contributors Kay Henderson, De’Ara Balenger and Sam Sinyangwe.