Ed Said

Mississippi Public Broadcasting introduces new puppet

By LaReeca Rucker

He's a 9-year-old boy with purple hair, an orange hoodie and a tiny pair of Chuck Taylor Converse kicks who has a rep on the playground for being a hardcore fruit and veggie rapper.

When he's not chillin' with his friends at lunch, he will old school battle-rap any kid on the playground about
potatoes or freestyle about fruits. Yeah, he¹s a B-Boy, if the ³B² stands for bananas, beets or beans.

Ed Said is Mississippi Public Broadcasting's newest puppet, created to encourage children to make healthful eating choices after recent studies revealed that Mississippi has the highest childhood and adult obesity rates
in the nation.

MPB leaders will introduce the new puppet Friday, Aug. 6, during a Strike Out Illiteracy event at the Mississippi Braves game at Trustmark Park. Gates open at 5:30 p.m., and the first 100 kids can pick up Ed Said earbuds to use
with their iPods and have their picture taken with the puppet whose hip hop fruit and veggie videos will air between innings.

Ed Said will star in Internet webisodes beginning Aug. 7 that can be viewed at EdSaid.org and HotChalk.com, a learning management system designed specifically for the K-12 educator. Kids can also download Ed¹s songs to their smart phones and iPods, and on Aug. 9, a 10-part Ed Said music video series will begin airing between programming on MPB.

Ed Said wasn't raised on the Street (Sesame, that is), but he has ties to it.

Arkansas native C. J. Burks, who graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi in 2008 with a degree in television and video production, created the concept for Ed Said and almost everything involved, including his song lyrics. She got in touch with a Sesame Street puppeteer, who constructed the puppet that is largely based on Burks' personality.

"We kind of have the same style, if you haven't noticed," she said. "He's got my same shoes and hoodie. I grew up on old school hip-hop. That's what I always gravitated toward, and I wanted to put that style in it. Ed's reputation on the playground is that he's an awesome rapper who raps about eating healthy."

Ed hangs with his Lunch Bunch, a group of four real kids ages 7-11.

"There¹s a dance that goes with each song, so we try to trick the kids into exercising," Burks said.

As his theme song explains, "Ed goes to school just like you, where he has to learn and study too.  There's reading, science, math and history, but he really loves learning how to be healthy."

Moving With Fruits and Vegetables is the name of the first series, which educates children about 10 different fruits and vegetables. "Vision¹s So Bright With Carrots," "Be Amaized with Corn," and "Potatoes From the Underground" are just some of the episodes.

Puppeteer Keri Horn, who brings Ed Said to life, is another USM grad. She studied theatre before joining the MPB staff in 1999.

"When Between the Lions came here in 2005, they needed a puppet assistant," she said. "They threw me up there to put clothes on the monkeys and brush the lions' hair. As shows progressed, they gave me my own character, which
was a huge thing. It was a Cajun hound dog named Kayree."

Ed forced Horn to get in touch with her inner rapper and create a unique voice for the new puppet.

"First, he sounded like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, then Bart Simpson," she said. "Then he landed somewhere in between. It takes a while to find a voice you can stick with a long time."

Executive Director Judy Lewis said MPB is committed to educating children. Forty percent of Mississippi children are overweight or obese. Related health issues include heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, depression and
negative self-image.

"MPB is dedicated to teaching children about healthy eating habits, being active and fighting obesity," she said.

Burks felt music was an effective teaching method.

"Ed takes a subject kids rarely want to talk about ­ vegetables ­ and uses music to make it fun and appealing," she said. "I really hope, more than anything, that he is successful and reaches children. I want this to make a difference."

He may be a hit with kids, but will he be a hit among rappers?

" I'm curious to know what the rap world will think of his music," she said. "I wonder if they will think it's whack or if they will embrace it."

A Q&A with Ed Said

Q: What's your favorite vegetable?

A: My favorite vegetable would have to be grapes because they're purple. (His producer C.J. Burks informs him grapes are fruits.) "Fail! Fail! (He yells, correcting himself.) Potatoes are my favorite vegetable. They are fat free and low calorie. You can eat them so many different ways. (He raps.) Mashed are great because they're easy to eat, but they're better when they're baked because the skin's the treat. I have a friend named Mashter P-Tato.

Q: What do you think about Kermit?

A: He's an inspiration. He's from Mississippi, too. I got to meet Heather Henson (Jim Henson's daughter) a couple of months ago. She's a sweetie. Kermit shows that you can come from anywhere, even the swamps, and make it big. It's not easy being green or being purple.

Q: Do you eat candy?

A: I don't eat candy. Different fruits are better than candy a lot of time ... Now, my puppeteer, on the other hand - that's a different story.

Q: Do you have a girlfriend?

A: No. I'm not a player. I'm only 9.

Q: Does this whole puppet thing make you feel well suited for politics?

A: No comment. My platform is a wooden stage, and I stand for vegetables and a potato in every pot.

Q: What do puppets eat?

A: Fruits and veggies. I like grapes and apples. (He raps.) Grapes are purple, but they're also white and red. Grapes give us jelly to put on my bread.

Q: Who is your favorite rapper?

A: I like Run-DMC because they are the original rappers. I'm also a fan of LL Cool J. I'm definitely into old school, and that's where my flow comes from. It's my goal to have LL Cool J rap with me at some point. I'd let him hang out in my Lunch Bunch.

Q: Who hangs out in your posse?

A: My Lunch Bunch and I are inseparable. Kids can be part of the Lunch Bunch by logging onto the website at EdSaid.org.

Q: Do you eat hamburgers and hot dogs?

A: Sometimes. I'm going to be at Trustmark Park, so I have to eat a hot dog. I have learned to be healthy and eat in moderation.

Q: Have you met first lady Michelle Obama who is also encouraging kids to eat healthy?

A: I'm looking forward to that because I feel that my campaign is aligned with hers. It's a goal of mine to have her at least acknowledge that I exist.

I would like to meet a lot of people. I met Deuce McAllister. He's really cool. He came to join me on the playground with the Lunch Bunch. We shot some promos with him. He danced with us.

Q:Why should anyone listen to a kid about nutrition?

A: I think once you hear my songs, you will understand. You will get it. They are very catchy. I hope kids will gravitate toward my message.

I hope everyone likes my show and they learn to eat better and move to my jams. I hope kids will follow in my healthy eating footsteps and learn that it's not hocus pocus; eating healthy keeps you focused.