Antiviolence activist and ubiquitous protester Jamal Johnson and others staged a rally Saturday at the entrance of Sesame Place after several videos posted to social media showed costumed employees at the amusement park seeming to ignore Black children.
In one video, a Sesame Place character can be seen knocking a very small Black child over. The videos led families and activists to call for a boycott of Sesame Place, in Langhorne, Bucks County.
Parent Jodi Brown posted a video to Instagram that’s now been viewed nearly one million times showing Sesame Place character Rosita seemingly ignoring and waving off her daughter and niece, both 6 and Black, and embracing children who appear to be white. After Brown’s video, many parents started posting their own or sending them to a popular Philadelphia Instagram account called @nogunzone and others.
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Johnson was joined on Saturday by several protesters from Philadelphia. The group remained relatively quiet because, Johnson said, last Saturday two protesters participating in a different rally were arrested for disorderly conduct and blocking the sidewalk at the park.
This weekend protesters held a sign with screenshots from Brown’s video and the words “Sesame Place said themselves that this is not ok!”
“It’s obvious that we still have obvious racial discrimination in 2022,” said Johnson. “Our children are being traumatized already back home in our communities with this gun violence. Now they have to come here and be traumatized, too.”
Reaction to the rally from the steady stream of park visitors was mixed. Some families cheered, clapped, and raised their hands and voices in support. Some jeered or muttered that there were more important things to fight against. But most people remained silent.
Adebayoo Arowolo of New Jersey said he won’t consider coming back to Sesame Place. He learned about the viral incidents on television but said he bought tickets to the park for his two children, ages 10 and 2, before the news broke.
“There’s nothing much to do than just to make awareness of it,” Arowolo said before applauding the protesters. “I believe awareness will help in fighting [Sesame Place].”
Sesame Place did not respond to an email request for comment by late Saturday. The park, though, has issued three statements explaining and apologizing for the incident that affected Brown and her family.
Protester Yvonne Scott said she’s been to Sesame Place with her nephews but will never return.
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“What they did is disgusting, and I think it’s sad that there are Black people still coming in here,” said Scott, who is Black, of North Philadelphia. “Even after they fix this, I’ll never come back because in this day and age, they should know better.”
Philadelphia mother Diane Leader was leaving but said she’d be back with her 7-year-old son, who has autism. “He had a good experience,” she said of her son in the park.
Still, Leader said that she agrees with what the protesters are doing and that the employees caught on video should be fired and affected families should receive a year of free park admission.
“It’s disrespectful, walking away from the kids,” Leader said.
Grandmother Regina H., who did not provide her full last name, came with her family from Connecticut and said she was not aware of racism allegations against Sesame Place. “If I knew that I wouldn’t have come,” she said.
Sharlene Mountcastle was gifted Sesame Place tickets and brought her four Black children, ages 6 to 1, to the park even after, she said, they had experienced discrimination. During an earlier visit, Mountcastle said, while her children were cheering and reaching for Sesame Place characters’ hands, they were completely ignored. The employees, Mountcastle said, just kept walking.
“I just kept it moving, I didn’t want to start anything, but I did feel some type of way,” Mountcastle said of her own incident, “because these are our babies and they love Elmo.”
Mountcastle said she brought her children because admission came at no cost to her, but she would not be returning.
Brown, whose video went viral, held a news conference on July 20 with Tamika Mallory of Until Freedom and her own lawyer B’Ivory LaMarr. In an interview with CNN, Brown called for the employee behind the Rosita costume to be fired. Sesame Place has not confirmed whether that has or will happen.
» READ MORE: Family sues Sesame Place for racial discrimination, alleging characters ignored 5-year-old Black girl
The park initially said the character Rosita’s gesture waving off children was in response to a request to hold a child for a picture, which is prohibited. When more videos quickly surfaced, the park issued a subsequent, more apologetic statement saying it was “committed to making this right.”
Later, Sesame Place said it had been in touch with Brown and her attorney. “To be very clear, what the two young girls experienced, what the family experienced, is unacceptable,” the most recent statement read. “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.”
In a separate action, Quinton Burns of Baltimore filed a federal lawsuit in Philadelphia on Wednesday against Sesame Place and its parent company, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, for breach of contract. The lawsuit alleges Sesame Place violated its agreement with Burns and his 5-year-old Black daughter, Kennedy, when characters ignored the girl during a “meet and greet” event. Burns presented a video of Sesame Place characters seeming to ignore his daughter and interact with other children, who appear to be white.
In addition to the several apologetic statements, leadership at Sesame Place said it will institute anti-bias training for employees.