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  • Won't You Be My Neighbor?

    “What do you do with the mad that you feel

    When you feel so mad you could bite?

    When the whole wide world seems oh, so wrong...

    And nothing you do seems very right?”

    — Fred Rogers

    *

     

    The Mr. Rogers documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is the film America needs right now.

    Yes, it’s a tearjerker — and yes, I ugly-cried through much of the 93 minutes — but it’s purposefully, not manipulatively so. Like Fred Rogers himself, and his PBS show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, this documentary reminds its viewers that how we treat each other matters. That children — and yes, adults too — feel deep, and often confusing, emotions. And that above all else, what matters most is love: To give and to feel love, and to know, especially as a child, that you are deserving of love.

    Love thy neighbor as thyself. Now that’s a passage from the Bible Jeff Sessions should be reading, and considering, when it comes to immigration policies. It’s a sentiment we all could consider before we dive into the comments section on Facebook and argue with each other via our screens. It’s most certainly one that Donald Trump should learn before his next Twitter rant.

    Love thy neighbor as thyself.

    Mr. Rogers lived by that sentiment, and through his quietly radical public television show, he made millions of children — myself included — feel loved and unique and important. And if “quietly radical” doesn’t sound like the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood you remember, with the Neighborhood of Make-Believe and Daniel Striped Tiger and above all, the dorky, singing old dude in the cardigan sweater, it’s time to revisit the show through this documentary. You’ll think again when you see Fred Rogers and his black castmate François Clemmons dip their feet into a tub together in one episode, protesting racial segregation. Watch for his smile at the camera—love is powerful, indeed, and no one was going to stop Fred Rogers from spreading a message that love does, in fact, always trump hate.

    In 1969, Fred Rogers took that message to the U.S. Senate, testifying about the necessity of funding public television. In only a 6-minute statement, he managed to secure $20 million in funding.

    This is what I give. I give an expression of care every day to each child, to help him realize that he is unique. I end the program by saying, “You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you, just the way you are.” And I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health.

    These are dark times for America, and I feel strongly that Fred Rogers would agree. By watching this documentary, I learned that Mr. Rogers was a lifelong Republican. (Funny how I never worried about his party affiliation back when I was watching the show at my babysitter’s house.) It’s been 15 years since he died. But I have no doubt, deep in my heart and soul, of this: Republican or Democrat, if Mr. Rogers were alive today, he’d be urging us to consider more than each other’s party affiliations; to move away from the memes and hateful social media commentary; and to instead see our shared humanity. And to speak up for what’s right, especially when children’s lives are at stake.

    Let’s speak up for love and understanding.

    Won’t you please, won’t you please?