In a time where America feels more divided than ever and children are increasingly exposed to violence and unkindness through the media on a daily basis, it’s no wonder that children’s TV host Fred Rogers is remembered so fondly.
Referenced for his incredible success in creating positive programming that taught children to be more accepting of themselves and their peers, Rogers remains a bright spot in a dark time.
But while many people now look at what Mr. Rogers did for the big issues of his time, such as civil rights and women’s rights, for many people who grew up with his show, he’ll always be best remembered for the little things he did to let each and every child know that that they were special.
While there are thousands of these snapshots from the show, Rogers always cared about what his viewers, especially the youngest, were thinking about. As part of his regular routine, Rogers always spent a little time responding to letters from across the United States, and even some from around the world, which he published in a book called “Dear Mr. Rogers, Does It Ever Rain In Your Neighborhood?”
One of his regular activities was feeding the fish in a tank in the middle of his set. Children were naturally curious about this, and a 10-year-old girl named Meaghan wrote in to ask him why he did it every day. His response showed how much thought he put in to every aspect of his show.
As he responded, “when we feed the fish, we’re showing that we ‘take care’ of other living things, and being take [sic] care of is something important to children. They know they need grown-ups to provide them with food, like the fish in our tank need us to feed them.”
But it was another letter about the fish that has many viewers in tears when they look back at this incredible entertainer and educator’s concern for all children.
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) March 4, 2018
No matter how long he had been doing the show, Mr. Rogers always felt that he had room for improvement. When a 5-year-old girl named Katie wrote in about feeding the fish, he knew he needed to change his way of doing things.
“Dear Mister Rogers, Please say when you are feeding your fish because I worry about them. I can’t see if you are feeding them, so please say you are feeding them out loud. (Father’s note: Katie is blind, and she does cry if you don’t say that you have fed the fish).”
After receiving that letter, Rogers always took care to mention that he was feeding the fish, knowing that Katie and many other blind children wanted to be just as involved as their fellow viewers who could see.
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This wasn’t the only time that Mr. Rogers did something special for differently abled children. He never liked the word “disability” to refer to kids who couldn’t see or walk, because for him, the only real disability was not being able to express your emotions, feel joy, and show love to others.
So on a program about all things mechanical and electrical, he invited 10-year-old Jeff Erlanger to the show in 1981. Erlanger had been a big fan of Mr. Rogers for a long time. After being paralyzed by surgery on his spine, Erlanger was wheelchair-bound.
But rather than letting this get him down, Erlanger proudly explained how the chair worked in detail and talked about his medical condition openly. After talking about the wheelchair, Rogers and Erlanger sang a touching song called “It’s You I Like,” which exemplified the spirit of the show.
It’s you I like,
It’s not the things you wear,
It’s not the way you do your hair
But it’s you I like
The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you.
Today would have been Fred Rogers' 91st birthday! We're celebrating with the newly-released book, "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood." Grab your copy today: http://ow.ly/DOH630o2OrF
Thankfully, Mr. Rogers’s message is being carried on on the big screen, from Won’t You Be My Neighbor (2018), the highest-grossing biographical documentary in movie history, to the upcoming It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers.
As everyone seems to be realizing, we need Mr. Rogers now more than ever.
Next Thursday, March 20th, would have been Fred Rogers' birthday. We're asking that everyone "wear a sweater and do something neighborly." If possible, send us your photos.