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Jesse Jackson meets with Sesame Place corporate leaders to discuss racism allegations

Aug. 12, 2022 Updated Fri., Aug. 12, 2022 at 12:14 p.m.

Sesame Place in Langhorne, Pennsylvania.    (Dreamstime/Dreamstime/TNS)
Sesame Place in Langhorne, Pennsylvania.   (Dreamstime/Dreamstime/TNS)
By Robert Moran The Philadelphia Inquirer

The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. on Thursday met in New York with the CEO of Sesame Place’s parent company to discuss racism allegations that erupted after recent viral videos of costumed characters at the park appearing to dismiss and ignore Black children.

“Rev. Jackson has made himself available to all parties to be a part of any ongoing mediation to help resolve this issue,” said the Rev. S. Todd Yeary, CEO of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition founded by Jackson.

Jackson spoke at a news conference in New York after the meeting with Marc Swanson, the CEO of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, which owns and operates Sesame Place in Bucks County through a license with Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit responsible for the TV show “Sesame Street.”

The introductory meeting also was attended by SeaWorld board members and lawyers, as well as B’Ivory LaMarr, the attorney representing the family of Jodi Brown, the woman who posted the viral video of an employee dressed as the turquoise Muppet Rosita appearing to refuse to high-five two 6-year-old Black girls during a parade. One of the girls is Brown’s daughter and the other is her niece.

When asked if the repeated apologies from Sesame Place were genuine and authentic, Jackson replied: “trust but verify.” The line, which Jackson said several times during his remarks, was first made famous by President Ronald Reagan when talking about negotiating with the Soviet Union.

Jackson said that Sesame Place must undergo significant change, including at the highest levels, to show a commitment to diversity and inclusion.

LaMarr said the leaders of Sesame Place have committed to a meeting with the Brown family within two weeks to continue discussions.

The Brown family did not meet with SeaWorld leaders on Thursday, according to 6ABC. Jackson, Yeary, and LaMarr described meeting with the company’s CEO, members of the board, and others.

Spokespersons for SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment and Sesame Place could not be reached for comment Thursday.

On Tuesday, Sesame Place announced diversity and inclusion training for all employees and other measures to quell the withering criticism and make the amusement park more welcoming.

By the end of September, employees at the popular attraction “will participate in a substantive training and education program designed to address bias, promote inclusion, prevent discrimination, and ensure all guests and employees feel safe and welcome,” the amusement park said.

The training will apply to new employees and will become a regular part of workplace development, the park said.

Cathy Valeriano, president of Sesame Place Philadelphia, said in a statement: “We are committed to making sure our guests feel welcome, included and enriched by their visits to our park.”

Late last month, a Baltimore father filed a federal lawsuit in Philadelphia 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, Kennedi, when characters ignored the girl during a “meet and greet” event. Quinton Burns, the father, recorded a video of Sesame Place characters seeming to ignore his daughter and interact with other children, who appear to be white.

LaMarr said the Brown family was interested in pursuing dialogue with the company rather than litigation.

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