Two young Black girls shown on video apparently being denied an interaction by a costumed performer at Sesame Place in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, are now suffering “severe emotional distress,” the family’s attorney said Wednesday.
Speaking alongside the girls’ mother and aunt in front of the Sesame Workshop in New York City, attorney B’Ivory LaMarr rejected the theme park’s claim that the snub was accidental and called on the performer to be fired, labeling the incident an example of racial discrimination.
“Don’t tell these families that you stand for inclusion and equality, but then destroy their confidence and their spirits of these young children and then go back to business as usual,” LaMarr said.
What happened at Sesame Place Philadelphia?
The incident took place over the weekend. The family was visiting from New York, said Jodi Brown, mother of one of the girls and aunt to the other. LaMarr said the incident has since caused Brown’s daughter to be “in isolation.”
In the now viral video posted Saturday on the mother’s Instagram account, the girls are seen excitedly reaching out to the character Rosita, the first bilingual puppet on Sesame Street. Although it appears that the performer had interacted with other children before reaching the girls, the video seems to show the character shaking their head “no” in the direction of the two young Black girls.
In response, Sesame Place Philadelphia said in a statement on Instagram Sunday that it the performer did not direct the “no” hand gesture, which was used more than once in the video, toward “any specific person,” but was instead gesturing that way in “response to multiple requests from someone in the crowd who asked Rosita to hold their child for a photo which is not permitted.”
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However, LaMarr rejected that claim. There is yet-to-be-released video showing that after passing the girls, the actor “embraced” another child immediately afterward, he said.
He also rejected the claim that the costume prevented the actor from seeing the girls. In fact, he said, the actor looked directly at them before moving his or her body sideways to “dismiss them.” Other people have since reached out with claims of discriminatory treatment at Sesame Place going back years, LaMarr said.
Following the incident, Brown said, she reached out to park management but was told only that no supervisor was available to speak with her at the time.
“For little children, they should not have to experience such hurt and embarrassment from a character who’s supposed to bring joy,” Brown said.
Afterward, the park reached out to the family and invited them back, but “that pales in comparison to the harms that have been realized,” LaMarr said.
NBC10 reached out to Sesame Place for comment about Wednesday's claims but did not receive a response.
Did Sesame Place Philadelphia issue an apology?
In a follow-up statement, Sesame Place apologized for the family’s experience and committed to taking actions to “do better.” “We will conduct training for our employees so they better understand, recognize and deliver an inclusive, equitable and entertaining experience to our guests,” the theme park said.
However, Brown said she does not feel the apology was genuine.
LaMarr said the girls’ family was never out seeking publicity and does not wish to file a lawsuit. However, he maintained a suit is still possible while demanding that the theme park cover any expenses related to the mental health of the girls.
Additionally, he said he and the family will call on social justice organizations for help creating “very specific action items” that they want Sesame Place to follow.
“We’re looking for real change. We don’t want to do this again. No other children should have to go through what these two girls have went through and experienced,” LaMarr said.