Sesame Street’s First Black Female Puppeteer Helps Kids Find Their Civic Voices

As Gabrielle on Sesame Street, Megan Piphus Peace makes history and introduces young people to the civic world.

7 mins read

Many characters have graced the hallowed stoop of 123 Sesame Street – the two-story

brownstone whose dark green double doors and adjacent, Victorian-era lamppost boast a cultural attachment that shows no sign of dwindling. To this date, the PBS staple has been on the air for 52 storied years, hosting a slew of celebrity guests and unconventional yet endearing personalities. 

From a canary-yellow, anthropomorphic bird, to a trash can-dwelling curmudgeon, to Maya Angelou, and even Adam Sandler, the alliterative show’s rotating cast has frequently expanded to fit the demands of modernity. Sesame Street has oft been heralded as a paradigm of inclusion and diversity, thus the recent welcoming of their first black female puppeteer should come as no surprise.

Megan Piphus Peace always knew she had a calling, feeling pulled towards one particular hobby: ventriloquism. Describing herself as a reserved child, the medium served as an emotional outlet, imbuing a young Peace with newfound confidence. “I was shy in small circles and would have a hard time opening up and being myself,” she explains. “So doing ventriloquism gave me a platform to speak about something that I wanted to share.”

Much of today’s conversation around one’s “passion” has been supplanted by sterile corporate-speak; platitudes devoid of any human truth. The “act” of being passionate has therefore turned into commercialized drivel like: “If you do what you love, the money will follow” or “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life” – empty phrases oft emblazoned on poorly-upholstered pillow shams. 

However, for Peace, the move to pursue puppetry full-time stemmed from a feeling of personal responsibility. The medium was omnipotent; following her throughout each stage of her life – through undergrad, through business school, through her real-estate ventures. It was an incessant, cacophonous ring that wouldn’t cease until she made the decision to pick up the call.

“It was when I moved past my fear of failure, and my fear of not being able to get enough work or be successful, that I was able to move to my dream career of working in television,” she says. “I would have people I didn’t know who would come up to me and talk to me about the importance of following your calling, telling me about the importance of purpose, and how light you feel and how gratifying you feel when you know that you’re walking in your purpose. It was time after time, day after day, that people who didn’t know me were repeating the same thing. I started seeing the signs, and it was very clear that it was time for me to move into this new journey.”

Peace joined the Muppet pantheon in September 2021, taking over the role of Gabrielle — a six-year-old girl buoyed by a boundless curiosity and an unwavering confidence. Yet despite the puppeteer only occupying the role for a little over a year, she’s already made a tangible impact.

In fact, Peace recently found herself the subject of her mom’s Cincinnati public school curriculum. In honor of MLK Day, Sesame Street aired an episode in which Gabrielle and her friends made Peace Trees – celebrating their friendship despite their physical differences. In the accompanied lesson plan, kids in her mother’s class were instructed to do the same, which was a gratifying moment for the ventriloquist.

In this fractured mediascape, Peace, ebullient and effervescent, is acting as a vehicle for unity –encouraging children to be active learners and participants in a world that does not take the interior lives of our youth seriously.

“We should listen to our children,” she says, earnestly. “Just because Gabrielle is six-years-old doesn’t mean that she can’t speak up on racism, or speak out when something happens. It shouldn’t just be her older cousin, Tamir, because he’s older. I think that’s teaching our children that no matter what age you are, and no matter what your role is, you have a voice in civil discourse, you have a voice in your community.”

Moreover, Peace, no stranger to the uneasiness that can come with expressing big, often confusing feelings, advocates for kids to start an open dialogue with the trusted figures in their lives.

“There’s such a beauty in sharing your big feelings, and sharing the load with the people around you. Humans have been around for thousands and thousands of years, so these feelings aren’t new,” she adds with a knowing, tinkling laugh.

For eons, we have seen humankind banding together; acting as a collective, reaching beyond themselves to create content that will comfort generations. Peace is one such figure; a light who speaks with a reverence and humility seemingly borne from living in her truth. While the puppeteer boasts a resume that includes a successful real-estate career, two Emmys, and, now, a residence on one of the most famous addresses in TV, her reign shows no signs of slowing down.

In fact, Megan Piphus Peace is a name you’ll want to remember.

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