Protestors make noise outside Sesame Place following racial bias claims

Jamal Johnson, from Germantown, protests outside Sesame Place on Saturday. Johnson and others aimed to raise awareness about what they say is discriminatory behavior from employees at the Bucks County theme park. (Emily Rizzo/WHYY)

Jamal Johnson, from Germantown, protests outside Sesame Place on Saturday. Johnson and others aimed to raise awareness about what they say is discriminatory behavior from employees at the Bucks County theme park. (Emily Rizzo/WHYY)

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Protestors continued to make noise outside Sesame Place in Bucks County this weekend, two weeks after a viral video sparked accusations of racism and a racial discrimination lawsuit against the children’s theme park.

The July 16 Instagram video, which has amassed over 939,000 views, depicts a Sesame Place character, “Rosita,” hugging a white child before walking past Black children. Multiple videos showing similar incidents involving Rosita and other Sesame Street characters have also been spreading online.

Among seven protestors at the Sesame Place entrance on Saturday was Jamal Johnson, who had traveled about 45 minutes from Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood to the park. Johnson said they were there to call out the park for practicing what they say is discriminatory behavior.

“People do not have to agree with our presence here, but I’m sure you would agree that everyone should be treated equally, especially our little children,” Johnson said through his megaphone. “…when they come here, they come here for good experiences, not to be snubbed, not to be ignored, not to be discriminated against.”

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Some people walking into the park on Saturday raised their fists in solidarity while passing the protestors, or offered claps or nods. (Emily Rizzo/WHYY)

In an apology issued by Sesame Place on July 19, the theme park said it would take actions to “do better,” including training employees to “deliver an inclusive, equitable, and entertaining experience.”

Johnson said his group was there to make sure Sesame abides by those promises, and they also are calling for the termination of the employee who was dressed as the “Rosita” character in the viral video.

“It’s obvious [Sesame Place] needs to start learning or relearning how to treat young, Black children that come to this amusement park,” Johnson said.

On Saturday, July 23, two New Jersey men were arrested for protesting outside the park. They were charged with summary offenses for obstruction of highways and disorderly conduct and released, the Bucks County Courier Times reported.

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Johnson and the protestors were met with a heavy police presence at the park entrance one week later. He and the six others were outnumbered by 10 police officers who stood across the street, five police cars, and two ATVs.

There was a strong police presence outside of Sesame Place on Saturday. Two New Jersey men were arrested while protesting one week earlier. (Emily Rizzo/WHYY)

“We saw how the people were treated last weekend by the police here,” Johnson said. “We thought it was uncalled for, over-exaggerated.”

Some families entering the theme park on Saturday were unaware of the viral videos, while others were aware and did not care to comment.

But many passersby raised their fists in solidarity while passing the protestors, or offered claps or nods.

Jamal Johnson and fellow protestors outside Sesame Place in Langhorne, Bucks County. (Emily Rizzo/WHYY)

Uthi, from Staten Island, said she was begrudgingly spending the day at Sesame Place, out of a “social obligation,” to her friend.

“If not, I would not come here again. And that’s the only reason why I’m here. And it’s hard coming here today,” said Uthi, who wished to have her last name withheld from the story.

She said she was glad to see the protestors.

“I was shocked that somebody could be so evil towards kids,” said Uthi. “I’m glad they’re being sued. I hope they take necessary action against their employees and do some training so kids don’t have to experience this.”

Skyla Berry, 13, was walking into the park with her family. She had seen the videos.

“It’s unfair, and it wasn’t right what she did,” Berry said. “She should have went to all the kids. And everybody’s equal. We are no different than any other person.”

Jamal Johnson and protestors garnering attention of people entering Sesame Place on Saturday. (Emily Rizzo/WHYY)

Sesame Place is facing a $25 million racial discrimination lawsuit from another family who claims they were ignored by costumed characters during “meet and greet” events along with other Black guests. The characters allegedly interacted with white guests.

A number of NAACP leaders have collectively denounced the “treatment of Black children” from Sesame Place and its parent company SeaWorld. In a statement, they demanded “immediate change,” including NAACP Philadelphia President Catherine Hicks, Bucks County President Karen Downer, Pennsylvania State Conference President Blanding Watson, and National NAACP President Derrick Johnson.

“To date, Sesame Place and SeaWorld have refused to take any real accountability for these abhorrent actions. We ask for answers from them outlining preventative steps going forward to ensure this never happens again,” said Watson.

According to 6abc, Cathy Valeriano, the president and general manager of Sesame Place, said the park has been looking at its internal practices. Valeriano said the performer in the Rosita costume has not worked since July 16.

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