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July 22, 2022

Sesame Place apologizes to Black family snubbed by Rosita mascot, pledges change

'It happened in our park, with our team, and we own that,' the Bucks County theme park said

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Sesame Place Apology Sesame Place/Facebook

Sesame Place has been under fire over a viral video showing a mascot waving away two Black girls who wanted high-fives during a parade last weekend. An attorney hired by the girls' family has increased pressure on the park to reach a meaningful resolution.

Embroiled in a week-long controversy, Sesame Place responded with a lengthy apology Thursday to calls from an attorney to rectify the damage done by a mascot who refused to give high-fives to two young Black girls at the theme park last weekend.

A video of the incident, shared on Instagram by the girls' mother and aunt, drew national attention and prompted demands that Sesame Place fire the employee who wears the Rosita costume. 

"We sincerely and wholeheartedly apologize to the Brown family for what they experienced," Sesame Place said Thursday evening. "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."

Attorney B'Ivory LaMarr joined Jodi Brown, the woman who shared the video, during a Wednesday afternoon press conference outside Sesame Workshop in New York City. The affiliated theme park in suburban Philadelphia is owned by SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.

"We are tired of your excuses. We are tired of your justifications. We will not tolerate racism in this country," LaMarr said, calling on Sesame Place to offer "a very genuine and authentic apology." The family had been unsatisfied with previous statements issued by the theme park, which initially had denied that the mascot ignored the 6-year-old girls intentionally. 

The incident happened Saturday afternoon as Brown and the girls were getting ready to leave the Bucks County theme park. They stopped along a parade route to watch the costumed characters and performers. When the girls saw Rosita approaching, they walked up to the character for high-fives, but the mascot waved them away.

Brown claimed the Rosita mascot then hugged a white girl, who had been standing next to the family. That interaction was not shown in the video Brown shared, but LaMarr said that he had obtained video of that hug, as well as other examples of questionable behavior by staff at Sesame Place.

Brown attempted to raise the issues with Sesame Place staff immediately after the incident, but her complaints were not taken seriously.

As the backlash grew early this week, Sesame Place vowed to conduct employee bias training and uphold its commitment to an inclusive park experience.

If Sesame Place didn't meet the family's demands for a better resolution, LaMarr said Wednesday, he would go public with the information and video evidence he gathered during his investigation of the incident. In addition to calling for the Rosita mascot to be fired, the family sought to have Sesame Place cover any therapy expenses the girls might need in response to the emotionally painful encounter.

Sesame Place's statement Thursday did not specifically commit to any of those demands, but reiterated that the theme park will undertake mandatory training for employees:

We have been in contact with the family since Sunday morning and we remain in contact through their lawyer Mr. LaMarr. We have offered to meet the family and their attorney in person, as early as today, to personally deliver an apology and an acknowledgement that we are holding ourselves accountable for what happened. We want to listen to them to understand how the experience impacted their family and to understand what we can do better for them and all guests who visit our parks. We are committed to learning all we can from this situation to make meaningful change. We want every child who comes to our park to feel included, seen and inspired.

We are taking action and are reviewing our practices to identify necessary changes, both in the immediate and long-term. We are instituting mandatory training for all of our employees so that we can better recognize, understand, and deliver an inclusive, equitable and entertaining experience for all our guests. We have already engaged with nationally recognized experts in this area.

We take this extremely seriously; we are heartbroken by what these young girls and this family experienced in our park. It is antithetical to our values, principles and purpose. We are committed to working tirelessly and intentionally to make this situation better. We will do the necessary work for the long haul — not just in the public eye, but also behind the scenes and within ourselves.

LaMarr and Brown, who have given interviews this week to news outlets including CNN and TMZ, had not responded to Sesame Place's latest apology as of Friday morning. LaMarr has said the family is not seeking money, but did not rule out the possibility of a lawsuit.

"I think there's potential claims on intentional infliction of emotional distress," LaMarr told TMZ earlier this week. "I think there's also negligence claims at issue that we'll further investigate as well."