Former Sesame Place worker on racism claims: ‘I can see both sides’

Northeast

(NewsNation) — Matthew Dranzik can tell you how to get to Sesame Place. He worked there as a performer from 2007 until 2012 and says he never experienced a staff member discriminating against a guest.

“I felt really bad for the family. I felt really bad for the performer.” Dranzik said while on NewsNation’s “Rush Hour” Friday. “We focused on people being happy, people being safe, people feeling included, no matter who they were.”

Matt took the job at 17 and says most of his fellow performers were around that age and if you stuck around into your 20s, he says, you were likely made a supervisor.

Current job postings on parent company Seaworld’s website indicate they’ll hire as young as 15 for the position. Even 15 years ago, there was an onboarding process with a specific emphasis on how to handle guests.

“How to treat kids, what you’re allowed to do, what you’re not allowed to do, how you interact with parents — there’s a way that you’re supposed to greet people and wave and there are gestures and signs of what you’re supposed to do in certain situations,” Dranzik explained.

Matt went on to say the parade — where multiple alleged incidents have taken place —is often chaotic.

“You’ve got to move fast. You can move forward, you got to greet as many as you can. You can’t assume that the eyes of the character are the eyes of the performer,” Dranzik said.

“Things happen sometimes where you wave at some kids hug others, their parents throwing their children at you. And you have to tell them ‘no, no, no, no, no, no, no, I can’t hold your child; it’s dangerous,’” he said.

But Malcolm Ruff, a trial lawyer with the firm filing a $25 million class action suit against the park, doesn’t buy it.

“You’re dealing with a theme park that operates to serve entertainment to children and you’re saying that the equipment that you’ve given your employees won’t allow you to see on a child level — it just doesn’t make sense. So we want them to make it make sense. We also want them to respect Black babies,” Ruff said while speaking on “Rush Hour” Friday.

Ruff sees a pattern of discriminatory behavior and says he’s vetting videos from many families with similar encounters like this one back in June.

Dranzik doesn’t think the performer in the first viral video intentionally snubbed the kids but knows that doesn’t change anything.

“I can see what their potential intention was. And I can also see the impact. I can see both sides and it sucks,” Draanzik said.

The law firm bringing the class action suit forward says they’re receiving 5-6 calls per hour at times of other families alleging similar discrimination. They expect to release a new video in the coming days once they’ve had a chance to vet it.

There’s a 4-year statute of limitations on allegations like this. They’re interested holding Seaworld accountable more than the individual performers.

As for Sesame Place, in a statement, they say the incident was “unacceptable” and plan to take steps to prevent it from happening again, including bias training.

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