Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Indeed, as anyone who checks their Facebook feed or watches the news probably knows, there is a lot of negativity out there, both in the media and in the world. Perhaps, that’s why last year, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, a low-budget documentary of a low-budget show by a humble man resounded among so many people. “Love is at the root of everything,” said Fred Rogers. (Sometimes, he conveyed that through art and music.)
One year later, the need for Mister Rogers’s message continues to be as great. Just in time for the 50th anniversary of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, comes another beautiful cinematic biography, It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. This year, we are celebrating the 50th anniversaries of both Mister Rogers and Sesame Street, along with the 30th anniversary of the U.N. Convention of the Rights of the Child. We need to know there is goodness in the world. Nothing saintly. Nothing magical. Simply, be kind to one another, love your neighbor. The movie is beautifully made; the acting and cinematography are all top notch. (I also heartily recommend last year’s documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.) The anniversaries may be old, but A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is truly a movie for our time.
All along, Mister Rogers reached out not only to the children he adored, but also adults, with whom he was – and continues to be – a balm for the adult soul. To children and adults alike, he said, “Sometimes, you have to ask for help. And that’s okay.” To Fred, it was also about reconnecting to one’s childhood. “You were a child once, too.” (One is reminded of Janusz Korczak’s masterpiece, When I Am Little Again. So perhaps, like the Old Doctor, Mister Rogers is – a hero after all.
Although Mister Rogers conveyed his passion for social justice through his everyday acts of kindness, many fans will remember the 1969 episode,when he invited Francois Clemmons for a “dip” in his pool.
Also 50 years ago, as a champion for children, Fred Rogers was a champion of public television, the only “channel” he deemed suitable for his program.
And 50 years ago, another forward-thinking children’s show debuted: Sesame Street. Like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, this program is not afraid to tackle important topics, still supporting families today. Topics also include autism and drug addiction – and, yes, feelings. Just as the Officer Clemmons episode broke ground in bridging racial segregation, Sesame Street, from the outset spoke to children in the inner city.
The Sesame Street set has been recreated at the New York State Museum.
The message of Sesame Street is universal, as this Bridgetown, Barbados, school attests.
Today, the reach of the program expands, now including Syrian children.