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‘Look, Listen, and Learn’: A Long Journey to Award-Winning Television

by Beverly Aarons

Look, Listen, and Learn TV (LL+L), Seattle’s first and only early learning TV show created by a Black producer for BIPOC kids and families, brought home three Telly Awards. “I was stunned,” LL+L executive producer Val Thomas-Matson said during a telephone interview with the Emerald. She recounted the moment she received the award notice. “I was grateful. I was excited and just felt so validated in that moment.” But that moment almost never happened. For the better part of her youth, Thomas-Matson, who describes herself as a “recipient of [the] educational gap,” was wracked by shame, guilt, and low self-esteem. 

“I didn’t do very well in school,” said Thomas-Matson, who proudly announced during the interview that she’s “61 years young” and Seattle born and bred. “It takes a toll on you as a young person when you don’t meet with school success.” Thomas-Matson grew up in the Central District when it was an all Black neighborhood and attended “one of the least performing Seattle public schools.” That young girl could not have imagined she would go on to produce LL+L TV and win one Gold Telly Award for her first season, one Gold Telly Award for episode 7 “Don’t Touch My Fur” and one Silver Telly Award for the mini-episode “What Does ‘Black Lives Matter’ Mean?” 

Those kinds of dreams didn’t seem feasible for a young Thomas-Matson who had to grow up fast. She was the eldest and thrust into the role of parenting two siblings who had sickle cell anemia even though she was still a kid herself. “I had a lot of responsibility,” Thomas-Matson said, “and I just kind of had to grin and bear it, if you will, and do the best I could.” But it was a lot for a kid. Influenced by a logic only a child could make sense of, Thomas-Matson felt like the odd man out because she was the only person in her family who didn’t have sickle cell anemia. Meanwhile, her self-esteem was low because she wasn’t performing well in school. By the time she reached her teen years, Thomas-Matson’s self-worth had bottomed out. 

But then the words of a stranger touched her. 

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