Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Fred McFeely Rogers, also known as Mister Rogers, was an American icon to generations of children–television host, producer, children’s television presenter, actor, puppeteer, singer, composer, author, educator, environmentalist, and Presbyterian minister. Most famously, he was the creator and host of the preschool television series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which aired nationally for more than 30 years (1968 – 2001) on public television.
The series was aimed primarily at preschool children ages 2 to 5 but was loved by television viewers of all ages because of the messages of love and wisdom liberally administered by its host. Fred Rogers believed and conveyed his conviction that every child has importance, every child has potential, and every child is deserving of love.
Without question, Fred Rogers (almost always clad in the signature zip-front red cardigan sweater knitted for him by his mother) was a champion of forgiveness. Here is some of what he said and believed:
“Forgive while you can. Forgiveness is so powerful but do it while you can because life is extremely short to just stay angry at someone.”
“Like all of life’s important coping skills, the ability to forgive and the capacity to let go of resentments most likely take root very early in our lives.”
“The only thing evil can’t stand is forgiveness.”
“Forgiveness is mandatory; reconciliation is optional.”
Fred Rogers (March 20, 1928 – February 27, 2003) pioneered the use of television to nurture and educate young children. His 30-year-long collaboration with child psychologist Margaret McFarland reinforced the strong universal values he delivered to untold millions of children who now make up much of the American public. His programs were critically acclaimed for focusing on children’s emotional and physical concerns, such as death, sibling rivalry, school enrollment, divorce, and compassion.
The values he integrated into all his activities included all of the five moral qualities most important to forgiving another person– inherent worth, moral love, kindness, respect and generosity.
“Love seems to be something that keeps filling up within us.
The more we give away, the more we have to give.”
“There’s no person in the whole world just like you,
and I like you just the way you are.”
“You are special. It’s you I like.”
“Everyone longs to be loved. And the greatest thing we can do is to let people know that they are loved and capable of loving.”
A shy, somewhat awkward, overweight, and sometimes bullied child growing up in the 1930s, Fred Rogers wasn’t comfortable at all with anger. Although he shied away from conflict, he also knew anger’s enormous power for good. Because of that, he wanted to help children to feel anger, to be willing to name it, to do something with it. Anger, he knew, when used well, can build entire neighborhoods of care. Interestingly, that’s the same sentiment that Dr. Robert Enright, forgiveness researcher and founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, incorporates into his Forgiveness Therapy interventions.
Fred Rogers graduated magna cum laude from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 1962 with a Bachelor of Divinity and was ordained a minister of the United Presbyterian Church in 1963. He often commented that his mission as an ordained minister, instead of being the pastor of a church, was to minister to children and their families through television. In carrying out that ministry, he left a legacy of love that reached millions of children and adults alike.
“As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has—or ever will have—something inside that is unique to all time.”
Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood emphasized young children’s social and emotional needs, and unlike another very popular public television program, Sesame Street, did not focus on cognitive learning. Writer Kathy Merlock Jackson, author of two books about Fred Rogers, wrote, “While both shows target the same preschool audience and prepare children for kindergarten, Sesame Street concentrates on school-readiness skills while Mister Rogers Neighborhood focuses on the child’s developing psyche and feelings and sense of moral and ethical reasoning.”
Mister Rogers died of stomach cancer in 2003 at age 74 leaving behind his wife of 50-years, Joanne, and two sons, James and John. For his body of work, he received virtually every major award in television and education including a Lifetime Achievement Emmy in 1997 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the nation’s highest civilian award in 2002. He was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1999. The Smithsonian Institute has a permanent Fred Rogers exhibit that includes one of the red cardigan sweaters he wore on his TV show.
An amazingly productive educator and entertainer, Fred Rogers also:
- Recorded more than 300 videos that are available on the Mr. Rogers Neighborhood YouTube Channel including 13 videos on anger and forgiveness;
- Authored some 150 books and publications including “It’s You I Like,” and
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a timeless treasure full of his own instructions for living your best, kindest life;
- Wrote more than 300 songs including one of his favorites “You Are Special” that he regularly performed; and,
- Created a non-profit production company, now called Fred Rogers Productions that carries on his legacy in memoriam.
Fred Rogers was known for his creativity, kindness, spirituality, and commitment to the well-being of children. He used his many diverse talents to inspire, nurture, and educate. As TIME magazine lamented, “It’s sad that we no longer have Rogers, who died in 2003—but how lucky we were to have him at all.”
- Visit Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, the official site of the company he founded.
- Read reviews of The World According to Mister Rogers, a New York Times Bestseller.
- Watch the official trailer of Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the top-grossing biographical documentary ever produced and named one of “The 10 Best Movies of 2018” by Time magazine.
- Review Thirteen Films That Highlight the Best in Humanity, a 2019 Greater Good movie list that names “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” as film of the year.
- Visit the The Neighborhood Archive, the most comprehensive website on everything Mr. Rogers including more than 18,000 memorabilia items like trading cards, hats, buttons and pins, mugs, posters, shirts, socks, stickers, toys and games, and more.
- Find out what Mister Rogers and Prince (pop/funk/R&B/rock music idol) have in common. Hint: They are both nominated for a 2021 Grammy Award in the Best Historical Album category.
- Order an iconic Mister Rogers Red Cardigan Sweater (“designed in the USA and handcrafted in Peru from warm, soft, and durable 100% pure alpaca wool yarn”) for only $194.99.