Kujo's Kid Zone puts spotlight on diversity with conversation starters for families

A YouTube show filmed in Calgary is putting the spotlight on diversity with a series of episodes aimed at educating young children and their parents. 

Randy Quansah's YouTube show is produced in Calgary for kids and their parents

Randy Quansah says he wants to help kids make sense of everything going on in the world right now, from Black Lives Matter to the COVID-19 pandemic, through his accessible children’s program, Kujo’s Kid Zone. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

Randy Quansah will never forget his first experience of racism. It was the first day of school.

"I was maybe seven years old," he said. "And somebody dropped the N-bomb on me. And the two people that were beside this Caucasian kid were actually East Indian, and they were laughing along with him in support." 

Quansah, the host of Kujo's Kid Zone, a YouTube show produced in Calgary, says that incident is the most hurtful one in his memory.

"I had no rebuttal for this particular remark," Quansah said. "I had no rebuttal because I was ill-equipped to deal with that situation. I never want my daughter, or any other marginalized child, to be ill-equipped."

Quansah says he hopes the YouTube show will put the spotlight on diversity and inclusion with a series of episodes for young children and their parents. 

Quansah has a four-year-old daughter.

"The Black Lives Matter (episode) stemmed from, how am I going to have this conversation with my own daughter," he said.

"But with everything around, the protests, the news, the conversations around the house, it would be silly to think that she wouldn't ask questions, and if I myself am a parent and I'm wondering this, I understand that other parents are going to be having difficulty as well, not only in the Black community."

Quansah has released more than 20 episodes since he launched Kujo's Kid Zone in 2019, touching on Pride, COVID-19, social distancing, sign language and Black Lives Matter. 

"For example, I had an episode about Black Lives Matter. So, for children that are Black, 'What is my identity? What does that look like?' I cover that at a very age-appropriate level — what is skin tone, what is complexion … what does privilege look like," he said.

"And also at the end of the day, what can they do, and what can their parents do, to follow up. Because the protest, that's fantastic, Black Lives Matter, everybody's standing up, everybody sits down, and squats down and kneels. But after these protests are over, what can we do to ensure that the momentum continues?"

Quansah says the show is not meant to be heavy-handed in its tone, and is aimed at a young audience. 

Recent shows featured papier mâ​​​​​​​ché​​​​​​​ crafts, and how to make a snack of fried plantain.

He also throws in activities and science experiments, and regular appearances from local puppeteers Ellis Lalonde and Kim Cheel — as the owl Kweku and parrot Adjoa, as well as Madison Laliberte, a Grade 2 teacher from Okotoks, who sings or reads popular children's stories.

The show currently has about 250 subscribers.

Calgary puppeteers Kim Cheel, left, and Ellis Lalonde make regular appearances on the YouTube show Kujo’s Kid Zone with their puppets the parrot Adjoa and the owl Kweku. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

Quansah​​​​​​​'s, parents are West African, from Ghana. He grew up in Montreal, watching Canadian TV.

"Growing up, the only person that I had seen that looked remotely like me was LeVar Burton from Reading Rainbow," he said.

"Mr. Dressup, The Friendly Giant, and Mr. Rogers were absolutely brilliant and creative, but they didn't look like me nor did they address some of the issues that were happening in my community. Had I learned about pride, racism, et cetera., it would have better prepared me and equipped me to deal with future hurt and pain that I would experience as a person of colour."

Elements of culture

Quansah, who plays the character of Kujo on his show, says he wanted to combine the best elements of those beloved children's shows with elements of his own culture.

"If Dora the Explorer can talk about her heritage and sprinkle it to a mainstream audience and talk about her language and customary traditions, there should be no reason why I can't … be a source of pride for people that do belong to the Black community."

But Quansah says it goes beyond just race issues to everything that is happening to the world right now.

"It's hard sometimes to change the narrative with people that have grown up and that are now adults. But what I'm aiming to do is help children become global ambassadors in the future. So that when they do occupy positions of power and positions of influence, that they can … not discriminate against people because of the complexion of their skin, because of their sexual orientation, because of their religious beliefs, whatever that looks like."

It's also about starting conversations, and starting at a young age.

"I do different experiments, I talk about different things in nature, I talk about different social injustices that are happening. But it's just a small piece, it's a conversation starter," he said. "So then you as a parent can take this, and now you're ... having these conversations, or completing these experiments, so you can spend family time together."

With files from Hala Ghonaim