As a child of the early '90s, I grew up with classic PBS children's programming - programming that may look very different from the current PBS Kids programs that are currently airing. One of my go-to, can't miss programs was Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. He was my preschool teacher before I attended school and he was my guidance counselor before I knew such a title existed. While he didn't devote time to ABCs and 123s (that was more Sesame Street's specialty), he introduced the concepts of feelings, emotion, and self-worth, all while showcasing places, people, and events from all around the global neighborhood. For a detailed listing of themes covered on the program, visit the PBS site. For Fred Rogers, you didn't have to do anything sensational for someone to love you - all you had to do was be yourself. Rogers dared to say that everyone was unique and though he came under fire for promoting a theory of self-worth, his message lives on strong to this day.
The 2018 documentary, Won't You Be My Neighbor, serves as an homage to Fred Roger's enduring legacy. Viewers are treated to Fred's humble beginnings as a youngster who wasn't encouraged to express his feelings except through music (which became a key feature of his program), and his desire to create an honest children's television program that was educational and meaningful. He was adamant that children not be taken advantage of by corporations who were more interested in selling merchandise than encouraging young minds. His approach to education was humble and basic; be honest with all audiences and listen to what they have to say.
This biographical piece does an excellent job of highlighting little known facts about Rogers’ life and his strong connection with the global public. Through archival footage, Rogers can be seen playing ping pong, roller skating, and learning to moonwalk alongside his eager listeners both young and old. He had the innate ability to interact with someone and treat them as they were the most important person in the world – to Rogers, everyone was important and everyone mattered.
His message was basic, simple, and endearing: be a helper. It doesn't matter how big or how small the action was – just stop to help someone. After 9/11, PBS reached out to Rogers for a message of comfort and assurance, and it was during these public service announcements that Rogers pleaded for people to think of others. As an Information Specialist, I do my very best to channel Rogers’ ‘master helper’ spirit (whether it is helping a patron find the ideal item, listening to a patron’s concern, or simply saying hello to someone and letting them know that they are special and welcomed at the library.)
It’s a new year in 2019, and while there’s still plenty of chaos, confusion, and heartache we can all do our parts to be helpers and make this world a better place one interaction at a time.