Family calls for Sesame Place to fire Rosita performer, accuses theme park of racism
Outrage has spread after a viral video showed a costumed performer at Sesame Place visibly dismiss two 6-year-old Black girls on Saturday. Now, the family is calling on the theme park to fire the employee.
In the video, posted to Instagram by Jodi Brown, "Sesame Street" character Rosita is shown high-fiving a white child and woman – but then gesturing “no” and walking away from Brown's daughter and niece, who had their arms stretched out for a hug and high-five during the parade at Sesame Place in Langhorne, outside Philadelphia.
"THIS DISGUSTING person blatantly told our kids NO then proceeded to hug the little white girl next to us! Then when I went to complain about it, they looking at me like I'm crazy," Brown wrote in her post Saturday. “I will never step foot in @sesameplace ever again."
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In a news conference Wednesday near Sesame Workshop, the New York nonprofit behind “Sesame Street," the family's legal team called for the immediate firing of the employee who dismissed the two girls.
This week: Sesame Place park apologies after Rosita character appeared to dismiss two Black girls
"Today is a day of accountability," the family's lawyer, Houston-based trial attorney B’Ivory LaMarr, said to reporters. "What has taken place at Sesame Place this past Saturday, and the months and years prior, is utterly disgusting and unacceptable."
LaMarr's law office confirmed to USA TODAY early Thursday that LaMarr had communicated with the counsel for Sesame Place but that no lawsuit had been filed yet. Updates were expected in the coming days.
"All options are on the table," LaMarr said Wednesday. "The last thing we want to do is file a lawsuit. ... This is not about money, but they do need to take responsibility and make sure these girls get the adequate care that they deserve.”
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For now, the family's attorney said Wednesday, the family is calling on Sesame Place to fire the employee, take care of the health and mental health expenses for the two girls after the incident, and issue a "genuine and authentic" apology – not a "watered-down" explanation.
In an initial statement shared on social media Sunday, Sesame Place said that the park and its employees stand for “inclusivity and equality in all forms" and that the "costumes our performers wear sometimes make it difficult to see at lower levels and sometimes our performers miss hug requests from guests."
Sesame Place added: "The Rosita performer did not intentionally ignore the girls and is devastated by the misunderstanding."
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Still, many expressed outrage online, and some called for a boycott of the amusement park. On Monday, the park issued a second statement, apologizing again and promising that it was “taking action to do better." That action would include inclusivity training for employees, the park said.
“We reject any notion that the performer’s actions this past Saturday was anything short of intentional. I know our Black girls are magic, but I didn’t know that they were invisible. We are tired of your excuses, we are tired of justifications," LaMarr said Wednesday in response to Sesame Place's statements. "We will not tolerate racism in this country. ... We most definitely will not tolerate it in our theme parks directed at our children."
Brown and activist Tamika Mallory, co-founder of social justice organization Until Freedom, who also joined Wednesday's news conference, strongly criticized Sesame Street's apologies for not taking further responsibility.
“I feel like the apologies were not genuine,” Brown, who was at the news conference with her niece Nylah, added on Wednesday. “Me, my niece and my daughter have all suffered ... discriminatory behavior which we should not have to endure in these days and times.”
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Mallory said Sesame Place's statements showed "gaslighting and complete disrespect." She also called on SeaWorld, who owns and operates the Sesame Place theme park, to speak up and take action.
USA TODAY reached out to SeaWorld for additional comments on Thursday.
In addition to what the Brown family experienced on Saturday, LaMarr said, his office – as well as Mallory's office and the office of civil rights lawyer Ben Crump – has since received numerous reports from families who say they have experienced similar, racist incidents at the theme park over the years from various costumed characters.
"We’ve come to learn that what took place Saturday is not an anomaly, but what we’ve seen is business as usual – to deny, to defend and to delay accountability," LaMarr said.
In a statement sent to USA TODAY Thursday evening, Sesame Place wrote that, "We sincerely and wholeheartedly apologize to the Brown family for what they experienced. To be very clear, what the two young girls experienced, what the family experienced, is unacceptable. It happened in our park, with our team, and we own that. It is our responsibility to make this better for the children and the family and to be better for all families."
Sesame Place also said that it had been in contact with the Brown family through LaMarr, and had offered to meet in person. Sesame Place maintained that the park was "taking action and are reviewing our practices to identify necessary changes" – including the mandatory training for all employees. The statement did not address the family's call for the Rosita performer's firing.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Family calls for Sesame Place to fire Rosita performer, accuses theme park of racism