Sesame Place announces 'comprehensive' anti-bias steps following viral 'Rosita' video controversy

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Sesame Place has announced it is implementing new initiatives including employee anti-bias training and education following a public outcry last month involving a viral video of a performer in a “Rosita” costume apparently snubbing two Black girls.

But an attorney representing the New York mom Jodi Brown, who filmed the video, suggested they found “deficiencies” with the company’s plan, according to a statement released late Tuesday night.

On Thursday, Brown, her attorney, and civil rights leaders including Rev. Jesse Jackson, are scheduled to meet with the CEO of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, the company that owns Sesame Place.

“It is our hope that this previously scheduled meeting will address the deficiencies we have noted from this most recent press release,” attorney B’Ivory LaMarr said.

2018 Sesame lawsuit alleges racial bias Sesame Place settled discrimination lawsuit by Black Muslim family years before viral video

The statement did not specify deficiencies were noted, and a spokeswoman for LaMarr did not immediately respond to an email asking what the deficiencies were. More details are expected to be released following the Thursday meeting.

In a press release Tuesday afternoon, the Middletown theme park detailed the planned efforts which will be overseen by a team of national experts in civil rights and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

New video questions Sesame's versionAttorneys for mom behind Sesame Place video call for park owners to 'do the right thing'

All park employees will be required to complete a “substantive training and education program” by the end of September. The program is designed to address bias, promote inclusion, prevent discrimination and “ensure guests and employees feel safe and welcome,” the release said.

The training will be incorporated as part of the new employee orientation and be added as a regular part of employee training and workforce development, the release said.

In addition to the employee training, the park, which is owned by SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, will undertake a comprehensive racial equity assessment, which will include a review of policies, processes and practices that impact guests, employees, suppliers and the community to identify opportunities for improvement, according to the release.

After the assessment is completed, experts will remain involved to monitor the company’s progress toward reaching its goals.

More:Our View: Leave the kid be, it's Sesame Place that has to get this right

A team of national experts will develop and oversee the assessment, training and education program and Diversity, Equality and Inclusion program enhancements. They include:

  • Debo Adegbile, an attorney, chair Anti-Discrimination Practice at  Wilmer Hale, a Washington C.C. law firm and a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

  • Joseph West, co-chair of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Duane Morris, a Philadelphia law firm

  • Sadiqa Reynolds, a longtime leader of the Louisville Urban League and incoming CEO of Perception Institute, a research consortium focused on reducing bias and discrimination.

Sesame Place Philadelphia President Cathy Valeriano said that park has already implemented some “interim measures” at the park while the review proceeds. The press release did not outline what measures have taken place.

“The actions we are taking will help us deliver on our promise to provide an equitable and inclusive experience for all our guests every day," Valeriano said. "We are committed to making sure our guests feel welcome, included and enriched by their visits to our park."

Screenshot of Jodi Brown, of Brooklyn, NY,  video showing her daughter and niece moments before  she says they were snubbed by the "Rosita" character at Sesame Place in Middletown, Pa
Screenshot of Jodi Brown, of Brooklyn, NY, video showing her daughter and niece moments before she says they were snubbed by the "Rosita" character at Sesame Place in Middletown, Pa

Mom's video of Sesame snub goes viralSesame Place blames Rosita costume issues for snub that mom calls racist in viral video

More Black families allege park snubsMore videos emerge showing apparent racial snubs of children at Sesame Place

The press release was the fourth Sesame Place has issued since a Brown, of Brooklyn, posted a 9-second video of social media taken at the park July 16 showing an employee dressed as the “Rosita” character apparently ignoring her Black daughter and niece, but interacting with guests on either side of them.

LaMarr and Brown have demanded the park terminate the performer who ignored her daughter and niece and make significant changes in park policy and employee training.

In earlier statements, Sesame Place repeatedly apologized to Brown, called the incident “unacceptable,” offered to arrange a private Meet and Greet with characters, and promised to implement immediate and long-term changes in its employee training and policies.

The park and its parent company have faced a firestorm of criticism, and calls for a park boycott, over its handling of Brown’s claims and allegations of insensitive behavior by employees toward Black guests.

After Brown hired a lawyer and her video went viral, other Black families came forward with similar claims, and videos of children apparently whose hugs and high-five requests were dismissed by performers dressed in character costumes who then interacted with other guests of different races.

One of those Black parents, Quinton Burns, of Baltimore, Maryland, has filed a civil suit in U.S. Eastern District Court in Philadelphia alleging his 5-year-old daughter, Kennedi, was ignored by multiple costumed performers during a Father’s Day visit this year.

Attorneys representing Burns are seeking permission from the court to certify the lawsuit as a class action, which would open it up to additional individuals who are eligible to join.

Baltimore family filed Sesame lawsuitSesame Place lawsuit alleges 'pervasive and appalling' race discrimination against children

This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: Sesame Place announces anti-bias initiatives following viral video