There’s plenty about the United States that I am not celebrating or commemorating today, especially those that carelessly and heartlessly exercise power in ways that oppress and restrict our lives and pursuits of happiness (or even survival).
But, one person I am celebrating today is Fred Rogers! I just saw Won’t You Be My Neighbor? last night and am inspired by his life and legacy. He recognized early on in television’s creation that we are, and we become, what we watch. As a seminary-bound Presbyterian with a background in child psychology and a passion for communicating across differences, he recognized that television was the place for his ministry to occur – a ministry that simply told people, and especially children, that they are loved for exactly who they are uniquely.
He responded to national crises like the assassinations of the 1960s, blatant dehumanizing racist practices, the Challenger explosion, and even 9/11, by helping kids process tragedy and despair. And at the core of his ministry in television (a ministry that never espoused Christian doctrine because Mr. Rogers never wanted any kid to feel like they weren’t included!), he actually believed that television was a format that could build community throughout the country. I think we’ve failed his vision, or at least we have only built our siloed communities based on what 24-hour news channel we choose to watch, but – I guess I remain hopeful that something is still possible. It feels silly most days lately, but a relentless commitment to hope and possibility are the things that keep me going.
I never watched Fred Rogers’ programming when I was growing up, but I hope that I can continue to live out his legacy by modeling in media – social media, radio, public/community media, etc – a thoughtful critique of the status quo and engagement across perceived differences rooted in deep love for the sacredness of all life. I know so many folks who are doing the same today. While I wish that we had a voice like his today in our media, to help help us to process the trauma and enable us to action today, but I also realize we have those voices – everywhere around us. They just aren’t the voices that are centered, recognized, and appreciated as such.
And so I suppose this post is just a reminder to look for the helpers, because there are always helpers, as Fred said – and to be the helpers, support the helpers, empower the helpers, and vote for the helpers – because we need more today than ever.
Also go see this movie! It’s much more inspiring and grounding than any other performative act of patriotism today could be.