Alot, was going on in that neighborhood. People of diverse backgrounds were welcomed by Mr. Rogers; the most unassuming man in America tiptoed into our hearts and minds.
A character on t.v. who was a misfit to what had just occurred in the Civil Rights movement.
Mr. Rogers had such a profound effect on me that my very first copywriting letter swiped his mantra of “Would you be my neighbor?” The jingle still tap dancing on my brain decades later.
Just be yourself. Children learned how to engage and have conversations with others different from themselves. Mr. Rogers asked the questions and we patiently listened to the answers along with him. Needless to say many future talk show hosts would imitate his style.
Mr. Rogers showed us what compassion looked like.
It seemed like he and the American men protrayed on the t.v. miniseries “Roots,” were light years apart. In Mr. Rogers’ personality, we saw an example of what Martin Luther King stated about not judging a person by the color of their skin but the content of their character. Mr. Rogers was MLK’s poster child and we never made the connection. The gashing wound of so many marginalized men just a few generations from slavery still dominated the American pulse.
Mr. Rogers simply invited you into the neighborhood. Segregation, Jim Crow, flight from rural areas, and continued marginalization did not exist in Mr Rogers’ neighborhood. Nor could we imagine the gentrification to come.
Rather than exploring all of these tough issues, little children found a safe space to laugh, ask questions, wonder, smile, get comfortable, sit down and relax.
Eddie Murphy shattered that image on Saturday Night Live’s skits of the hood. A ghetto stereotyping “black” men as criminals with warped thinking that made people laugh. Eddie Murphy’s Mr. Rogers sarcastically robbed a little old lady of her groceries only to use the contents in a “nutrition lesson” for little children. Back to square one. The reality so grossly protrayed that some neighborhoods are outright scary.
Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood was a fantasy, a lie.
According to Eddie Murphy, we were no longer laughing with Mr. Rogers but laughing at him.
We had already grown up and were no longer watching Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood. Our childhood icon had sent us out in the world with unrealistic expectations. Eddie Murphy didn’t tell us anything new.
Mr. Rogers had a way of softening the blow with a song. He sang, “when the whole wide world seems all so wrong,” to calm our protests as little kids. Not the song to sing at the real rallies of grown-ups.
Mr. Rogers, a man who had a way with us kids. He skipped into our imaginations not yet corrupted by disappointments and responsibility.
Mr. Rogers was our guide outside his make- believe neighborhood. He showed us how things were created in a land where most jobs had not yet been exported.
Mr. Rogers’ gentle touch was welcoming against the abrasive and cruel realities some of us kids had already faced. Let’s remember him that way.
People can change. We don’t have to live up to stereotypes. Mr. Rogers just was. You don’t have to live in a prison of your past.
Mr. Rogers invited girls and boys to imagine neighborhoods where you would be engaging in dialogue. Let’s keep the conversations going. Keep reaching out to those in your community. Social media does not have to dominate.
Copyright May, 2019