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July 18, 2022

Amid backlash, Sesame Place apologizes for Rosita mascot's snub of two Black girls

An Instagram video shows the character waving off two children during a parade. Their mother says a white girl received a hug immediately afterward

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Sesame Place Video Sesame Place/Facebook

Sesame Place in Middle Township, Bucks County issued a statement in response to a woman's claim that its Rosita mascot deliberately refused to interact with her Black children. The theme park said it is committed to 'inclusivity and equality in all forms.'

A Black mother who took her daughters to Sesame Place in Bucks County on Saturday has accused one of the theme park's mascots of ignoring her two daughters' request for high-fives during a parade to instead hug a white girl nearby.

The woman shared a video on Instagram that shows the "Sesame Street" character Rosita giving an adult a high five and then wagging a finger "no" to another person off-screen. The mascot then gestured to turn down the Black girls. The video does not show the mascot's interaction with the white girl. 

The mother, who goes by Jodi, said the incident happened as she and her kids were getting ready to leave the theme park. They had decided to stop to see some of the characters from the iconic children's show. After the girls were ignored by Rosita, the mother took the issue to a park employee.

"(When) I went to complain about it, they looking at me like I’m crazy," the mother wrote on Instagram. "I asked the lady who the character was and I wanted to see a supervisor and she told me SHE DIDNT KNOW."

The video has been viewed more than 383,000 times since it was shared on Instagram and has since spread to other social media platforms, including Twitter.

Sesame Place, which has operated in suburban Philadelphia for 41 years, initially issued a statement denying that the mascot's actions were racially motivated. A second statement on Monday night acknowledged the guests' experience was "not ok" and pledged to provide employee training to ensure a more inclusive park. 

The theme park's original statement claimed the mascot's gestures in the video were intended for someone else, off-screen, who had requested a picture of Rosita holding a child. The park's mascots aren't permitted to hold children. 

The statement also claimed that the mascot costumes "sometimes make it difficult to see at lower levels," even though the Rosita performer seems to have noticed and gestured at the two girls. 

"The performer portraying the Rosita character has confirmed that the 'no' hand gesture seen several times in the video was not directed to any specific person, rather it was a response to multiple requests from someone in the crowd to hold their child for a photo which is not permitted," the statement said. "The Rosita performer did not intentionally ignore the girls and is devastated about the misunderstanding."

Sesame Place said it has reached out to the family to apologize and invited them back for a special meet-and-greet opportunity with "Sesame Street" characters.

"We apologize to these guests for not delivering the experience they expected and we commit to do our best to earn their and all guests' visit and support."

The video sparked outrage online and strong criticism of the theme park, including accusations among some that the Rosita mascot has engaged in a pattern of similar behavior at Sesame Place. It's unclear whether the park rotates costumes for different employees to wear from day to day. 

The mother's video also got the attention of some celebrities, including Destiny's Child singer Kelly Rowland, who spoke out about it in an Instagram story.

"Okay so had that been me, that whole parade would have been in flames," Rowland said. "Like, are you serious? You're not going to speak to my child? And did you see that baby's face at the end? The little one with the pink on? She deserves an explanation."

After seeing then first statement from Sesame Place, the mother who shared the video later responded in an Instagram story. 

"Talk about adding insult to injury," the woman wrote. "I really tried to handle this situation calm as possible but I am hurt, and that response just made it worse! The character could've just waved to everyone or just kept walking, but to blatantly look at my kids and say no... Don't try to tell me he can't see lower levels. He looked at them and said no!! So embarrassing and hurtful. I will repost this video everyday until the situation is handled. Signed: A hurt mom."