Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Fred RogersI recently saw the documentary about Fred Rogers called Won’t You Be My Neighbor? It was not the kind of movie on my list of “must see” flicks. I was just influenced by the terrific reviews and figured “What the heck? How bad could it be?” My lukewarm interest in attending the movie was probably based on the fact I was not much of a Mr. Rogers fan when the program first aired (1968-2001). I was too old to view it as a child, and only watched it occasionally with our children when they were younger. I was more of a Sponge Bob dad.

I now understand why the movie was so well reviewed. I was floored by the power of the film. It was so well done, so moving and gave me an appreciation of the power of Fred Roger’s message at a far, far deeper level than I had previously understood. I was really touched.

As background Fred Rogers grew up outside of Pittsburgh in Latrobe, PA. After college, he graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and was ordained a minister of the United Presbyterian Church. His program, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood began on February 19, 1968 via the Eastern Educational Television Network. In 1970, the program moved to PBS (Public Broadcasting Service), and ran for 33 years until 2001. The program debuted before the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, and ended after 9/11. (He devoted shows to these events). How the world changed during those 33 years! But the basic program, its central concepts, pace of delivery and messages remained the same.

Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was a low tech, slow moving show. No fast cuts, hard driving music or CGI. The show had a simple set and simple production values, and a simple song sung by Fred at the opening of each show:

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

It’s a neighborly day in this beautywood,
A neighborly day for a beauty,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you,
I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.

So let’s make the most of this beautiful day,
Since we’re together, we might as well say,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won’t you be my neighbor?

Won’t you please,
Won’t you please,
Please won’t you be my neighbor?

We need Fred Rogers today. His message of kindness, compassion, and respect were central to each show. Respect was the theme throughout—for all people, for differences, for truly what makes America great. Fred Rogers’ values were completely opposite of the less than honorable leader of our nation whose spiteful rhetoric, disrespect, and underlying racism brings shame to our nation. No mention of this contrast was made in the movie. None needed to be. And by the way, Fred Rogers was a Republican, the kind the nation needs today.

A year after the program ended in 2001, Fred Rogers was diagnosed with stomach cancer and he passed away at age 74 in 2004.

See the movie and think about its message. I promise you won’t be disappointed if you did.

More Strumings

Leave a Reply