Won't You Be My Neighbor?

As you might have guessed – I’ve been reading about Mister Rogers a lot this week J

If you were a child sometime between 1968 and 2001, and you had access to a TV, you likely watched Mister Rogers.  And you’ll probably remember some of the most emblematic components of his show – his zipper sweaters, the shoelaces on his sneakers, and the famous theme song.  But the recent film Won’t You Be My Neighbor has brought out some lesser known facts about him – or at least, facts that I didn’t know.

For one, he was a Presbyterian minister, but he had always wanted to work in television. He started his own show because he was displeased with the content of children’s programming at the time, and thought that he could use the medium for good. It was visually very simple, low-budget, without a lot of the bells and whistles that we have now come to expect from children’s programming. He didn’t believe in putting on a clown suit or taking on a new persona to be in front of kids, opting instead to trust that children appreciate honesty. While we learned our letters from Sesame Street and learned how to read from Reading Rainbow, it’s widely thought that we learned “emotional literacy” from Mister Rogers.

And looking back – it’s true. Mister Rogers guided parents and children through the assassination of RFK. His show highlighted people of color and women in senior roles (Mayor Maggie, Lady Elaine). After 9/11, he created public service announcements for parents on how to talk to their kids about what happened. Time and time again – crisis after crisis – tragedy after tragedy – Mister Rogers showed up, and remained a constant advisor for children and parents alike.

We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say, 'It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.' Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.

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These words guide the work at Impact Network every single day. Given what is going on in the country right now, I find them to be even more powerful.

- Reshma