I had the good fortune to watch Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood on television with my children in the 80’s. I also had the good fortune to hear Fred Rogers speak at a national teacher’s conference in the 90’s. He was a kind and gentle man, and he commanded the love and respect of children and parents – because he understood children. He also understood the world, and more importantly, children’s place in the world.
Most recently I watched (twice) the new documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? I thought I knew… well, there is so much. I didn’t know.
I highly recommend watching this film. Remember, it is a documentary, not a movie. I will share one story that blew my socks off:
Racial tension was at a high. In the south, a film clip showed black people swimming in a pool, and white people walking along the outside edge of the pool pouring straight chlorine bleach into the pool. So how did Mister Rogers handle that on his show? He was sitting, with his feet in a wading pool. Along comes Officer Clemmons, a popular (and black) character on the show.
“Hi Officer Clemmons. How are you? It’s a hot day. Would you like to sit and cool off?”
They sit side-by-side exchanging greetings, and Officer Clemmons takes off his shoes and socks, and joins Mister Rogers in the wading pool. Their feet are swimming together, black and white. It’s that subtle. It’s that powerful.
What a perfect way to combat racial prejudice. Better yet, what a brilliant way to bring the world to children. Humanity and kindness at it’s best, in an everyday situation.
That’s what Mister Rogers did.
He saw the inside of everyone, not the outside.
Fred Rogers was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award bestowed by the President of the United States. He received the coveted Peabody Award. The Smithsonian Institution displays his trademark sweater.
Mister Rogers list of accomplishments is a long list, yet to him (and me) his most important accomplishments aren’t on those lists. They’re what he did everyday with children. He has a lot to say about that.
Stayed tuned for Part 2, and the words of Mister Rogers himself.