Growing up, every child’s mind runs rampant learning new things about themselves and the place they live in. They let their imaginations soar in classrooms, at parks, and in homes as they learn the ways of the world. This, however, is a daunting task, and adding new emotions into the mix does not make it any easier. Kids often have to navigate their way through serious topics such as death, divorce, or tragedy, with no set of instructions of how to deal with them. For many children, this is where Fred Rogers came in.
Rogers was a Christian minister who was deeply passionate about children’s development and television. After watching different programs showing violence and poor behavior, Rogers wanted to create a place for children to feel loved, safe, and understood, and thus “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” was born.
“Watching Mr. Rogers was the television version of what a hug felt like. It felt like coming home,” English teacher Rachael Phipps said.
“Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” was unlike any other program of its time. Unlike other shows, it turned away from the popular violent and humorous stimulants and focused on educating children on how to manage their emotions. In each episode, Rogers would put on a sweater, change his shoes, and usher his audiences into the magical world of make-believe.
Each episode handled a different topic, ranging from knowing the difference between reality and fiction to assassinations. It was his willingness to talk about tough subject matter that made Rogers such an iconic and influential man to generations of children.
Many of the episodes written were based on events happening in reality, including enormous tragedies such as the Vietnam War, Bobby Kennedy’s assasination, the Challenger Explosion, and 9/11. It was in these times that Rogers was able to reach into the hearts of millions of Americans. He ensured every viewer that the fear and sadness they felt were valid, and that it was okay to express those emotions if they wanted. In this way, Rogers created a safe place for Americans to land every week, which is more than any other program did at the time, or even now.
In light of these events, Rogers always preached that we must love ourselves and our neighbors. He believed that everyone, no matter who they were, was unique and worthy of being loved. In this way, Rogers was able to promote a message of acceptance on many different levels to his audience.
In terms of acceptance and inclusivity, the most important issue “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” undertook was segregation. Many times on the show, Rogers invited the show’s “policeman,” Officer Clemmons to cool off and put his feet in his pool. Especially in the early years of the show, this was a very controversial action, as many still believed in the separation of African Americans and whites in American society. Despite this, Rogers knew that it was a lesson that had to be taught.
“Mr. Rogers was necessary and was a revolutionary because he was unapologetic in spreading kindness and standing up for what was right in his television show,” Phipps said.
This message of self acceptance and love will always be the trademark of the Mr. Rogers legacy. In the face of fear, adversity, and tragedy, he used his platform to provide Americans with a haven where they could feel loved, understood, and accepted. He was a beacon of light and the embodiment of hope for millions of Americans, and will continue to teach love and acceptance to generations to come.
“I would say that if there’s anyone that could live forever, I wish that it could be Mr. Rogers,” Phipps said.