The Black family who alleged their young children faced racial discrimination from a costumed performer at Sesame Place Philadelphia in July is contemplating their legal options after feeling dissatisfied with their discussions with Sesame Place and its parent company, Orlando-based SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.
The family, including Jodi Brown, her daughter Skylar and niece Nylah, has not yet filed a lawsuit against SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. Their attorney B’Ivory LaMarr said the Browns have not been able to reach an “amicable resolution” with the company.
“We will proceed with pursuing each and every legal option available to our clients and are calling on all community leaders and activists to stand with us in solidarity,” LaMarr said in a statement.
The family’s legal team, which also includes civil rights attorney Ben Crump, is monitoring a separate lawsuit filed against SeaWorld in July alleging similar discrimination at the same theme park, LaMarr said.
The Brown family claims cousins Skylar and Nylah were ignored by a performer dressed as the character Rosita from Sesame Street during a parade at Sesame Place Philadelphia in July. Skylar’s mother, Jodi Brown, said the performer waved the girls off but interacted with a white child immediately afterward.
A video of the incident went viral after Brown posted it to Instagram that month, and other people responded by posting videos of the character appearing to snub Black children in past encounters.
Brown’s video shows the performer high-fiving a couple guests and wagging her finger at one before shaking her head at Skylar and Nylah and waving them off as they reach toward her. It does not show the performer’s actions afterward.
Sesame Place posted a public statement to Instagram apologizing to the family on July 17, the day after Brown posted the video. The statement said Rosita’s performer had limited vision in the costume and their waving gesture was directed at someone in the crowd asking the character to hold their child for a photo.
After the incident, SeaWorld representatives talked with Jodi Brown, issued a refund to the family and invited the Browns back to a special meet-and-greet experience with Sesame Street characters, according to an unsigned statement from the company.
The Browns declined the meet-and-greet because they did not want the children to “relive their trauma,” LaMarr said.
SeaWorld CEO Marc Swanson met with the Rev. Jesse Jackson about the issue on Aug. 11 in private without LaMarr and the Brown family, according to SeaWorld and Tanya Wiley, LaMarr’s spokeswoman. LaMarr later called the meeting a “day of progress.”
The family met with Sesame Place leadership Aug. 30. Wiley said the Browns expected the meeting would be a mediation and that SeaWorld CEO Marc Swanson would be present. A SeaWorld spokesperson who refused to be identified said Swanson was never expected to attend.
In its statement, SeaWorld said it is in regular contact with the Browns and their legal team and are working to “advance the commitments” to the family and the public, including by deploying new mandatory employee training on inclusion at its Sesame Place parks by the end of September.
But LaMarr said his clients are “tired of talking” and feel SeaWorld has not sufficiently addressed their concerns of discrimination.
“After nearly 2 months of engagement, it has become evident and we believe that the leadership at SeaWorld Entertainment does not respect the political power of African-American civil rights leaders and their outreach within the community,” his statement read. “We further believe that they do not respect the African-American dollars that help make SeaWorld and Sesame Place profitable.”
Meanwhile, Baltimore resident Quinton Burns filed an unaffiliated class action civil rights lawsuit against SeaWorld in Pennsylvania court on July 27, after the Browns’ video was posted. He claims his family and other Black visitors to Sesame Place Philadelphia were ignored by performers dressed as Sesame Street characters while the same characters approached white guests.
The lawsuit seeks more than $25 million in damages.
According to CNN, Sesame Place said it would review Burns’ lawsuit and remained committed to giving all guests an “inclusive, equitable and entertaining experience.” Records show SeaWorld has until October to respond to Burns’ allegations in court.
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