For Ed Jenkins, Minneapolis was always where he planned to set Keyshawn Solves It, a podcast from GBH Kids in Boston that follows a 10-year-old on a mission to save his communities’ Juneteenth bike parade. To do that, Keyshawn has to discover what has happened to all the bikes that have gone missing in his neighborhood.
Jenkins, who has been based in the Twin Cities for nearly 17 years, says his reaction to the police killing of George Floyd in 2020 sparked an idea for how to structure this particular program in the city where he lives.
“I wanted to really bring out a story there of young people doing extraordinary things in North Minneapolis,” said Jenkins, the program’s creator and co-EP. The neighborhood is home to one of the city’s largest Black populations. “It’s a place that has a lot of wonderful people,” he said. “There have been challenges in the community, but there also have been triumphs.”
GBH Kids partnered with PBS Kids and PRX to distribute Keyshawn Solves It, which is geared towards children between ages 5 and 9. Black Public Media provided additional funding.
The first two episodes were released May 29. Two new shows are rolling out weekly through Juneteenth, when the final episodes will land.
This is Jenkins’ first time producing for public media. For the last decade he worked on his independent children’s initiative, Lalo’s Lunchbox, which focuses on inspiring kids to eat healthy foods. But, in 2021, Jenkins began developing the show, then-called Keyshawn the Keymaker, as part of the CPB-PBS Ready To Learn initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Education. In that initiative’s accelerator program, CPB provides a stipend to creators and PRX helps train producers in the art of podcasting.
When Jenkins’ ideas for the podcast went through the accelerator’s stress test, Juneteenth wasn’t part of the storyline. In the project’s first rendition, Keyshawn was to be a boy who “uses a key-making machine to become an entrepreneur and learns important lessons on his journey to unlock the door to success,” as PBS described the concept in 2021. And a video produced as part of the final showcase for the PRX training focused on the concept of key values for career success.
After the accelerator, PRX introduced Jenkins to Dorothea Gillim, EP and GBH Kids creative director. “PRX came to GBH Kids and said ‘We really love this and we believe this will be a great podcast for kids. Would you want to work with us on it?’,” Gillim recalled. “After we looked at Ed’s great proposal and where he was headed, we absolutely were excited.” That’s when ideas for a Juneteenth storyline began to gel.
Picking up on the “keys to success” theme, Jenkins realized that Keyshawn Solves It would make a bigger impact if the show had an additional sticking point.
“When I was in the accelerator program, we really focused on our pilot episodes and the concept, so [Juneteenth] wasn’t involved in that stage of development,” Jenkins said. “But, as I worked with GBH … I really felt like it was important to have some type of community event that … would be the backdrop of the story, the foundation of it. I wanted it to be a positive event that would be happening in North Minneapolis but also relevant to a broader audience.”
“It was 2022, so just the year before Juneteenth became a federal holiday,” Jenkins added. “I grew up … being part of Juneteenth celebrations as a kid, so I thought ‘Whoa, what a great opportunity to introduce Juneteenth to some kids and families that may not know much about it.’”
Public media children’s podcast boom
Podcasting is increasingly part of public media’s content mix for children. Last year, several stations including East Tennessee PBS in Knoxville and Ball State PBS in Muncie, Ind., worked on podcasts for children as part of the Ready To Learn accelerator. During last month’s PBS Annual Meeting in San Diego, executives for PBS Kids mentioned their plan to develop more podcasts in the coming years.
GBH has expanded into children’s podcasting by adapting its PBS Kids television programs Arthur, Molly of Denali and Pinkalicious & Peterrific. GBH also produced an original horror-based podcast aimed at kids between 8 and 12. The Creeping Hour debuted in 2019.
Keyshawn Solves It aims to simultaneously help children learn about Juneteenth and its origins while offering important life lessons about following through on what you plan to accomplish and being neighborly, according to Jenkins and Gillim.
GBH Kids assisted with the creative process by bringing in advisors for both the “social-emotional learning content and the Black history content,” Gillim said, who is co-EP for Keyshawn Solves It. GBH Kids also hired story consultant Belinda Ward to work with Jenkins. Ward is the head writer for Pinkalicious & Peterrific and has writing credits for Sesame Street and Donkey Hodie.
Avery Moore Kloss, the producer for Keyshawn Solves It, joined the project during the accelerator and continued to work on the program. Jerome Rossen, who collaborated with Jenkins on Lalo’s Lunchbox, served as the music director.
Some of the characters in Keyshawn Solves It, including Keyshawn himself and his trusted friend Kiki, were inspired by people Jenkins knew personally when he was growing up, including his parents, grandparents, teachers and members of his church communities.
Keyshawn, especially his temperament, was based in part on “some of the ways I was as a kid,” Jenkins said. “I wanted to create this character that had this determination and joy of solving a mystery.” He wanted children to see how having resilience gets people through trying times.
GBH plans to continue investing in children’s podcasts, Gillim said. The station has come a long way since 2019, when Molly of Denali was the first podcast for PBS Kids. Now there are plans to launch a podcast for Work It Out Wombats! and possibly more projects with Jenkins.
“We always want to be wherever kids are,” Gillim said. “We want to provide kids and families ways to interact with their favorite characters on different platforms.
“Podcasts are definitely on the rise in terms of popularity with kids and families, which is really exciting because it offers the chance for kids to have kind of an offscreen experience in this very screen-driven world we’re in,” Gillim added. “We also know from the data that more and more parents are listening to podcasts with their kids, so it also provides an opportunity for conversation.”
Gillim and Jenkins share the hope that parents will listen to Keyshawn Solves It together and discover its positive stories together. “This is a fantastic podcast for co-listening with parents and kids, and even adults can have fun thinking about it,” Jenkins said. “And it has a really great introduction to Black history and Juneteenth.”