Yes, I will admit that back in the day, before there such delightful options like Netflix, ESPN, satellite television channels and other technological wonders, I watched Mr. Rogers. That’s right, I would faithfully sit in front of the color TV in our family room and check out that soft-spoken Caucasian who never forgot to put on his sweater.
Mr. Rogers would teach me about being “neighborly” — treating others like I wanted to be treated. He would invite me to travel to the Land of Make Believe where my imagination could run wild. He would share insights about family, friends and even tackle the kinds of fears that I would one day be forced to confront and hopefully overcome as I moved from childhood to the land of the giants.
Certainly, sometimes Mr. Rogers would be a little boring. And there were those moments, as I grew a bit older, that I discovered that he was far too naïve. After all, the world as he envisioned it didn’t quite fit into mine. Little Black boys like me who were bright and inquisitive still had to deal with the fact that being Black wasn’t always the most popular thing to be. We had to deal with the reality that many doors were locked simply because we weren’t white — like Mr. Rogers.
My skin color and my culture were not welcomed or celebrated by everyone. In fact, there were those who seemed to fear me, or at least those who looked like me, particularly as we began to lose our childhood innocence and become teens, then adults.
Mr. Rogers didn’t have much to say about racism, prejudice, poverty or unequal educational institutions. And I often wondered why. That concern was never addressed.
Fifty years ago, when Mr. Rogers first burst on the national scene, America was waging a battle for civil rights for all of its citizens. I think some, like my parents, believed that after that “war” was over, that we would finally begin to realize those lofty ideas that Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and others had written about — promises that still remain on the pages of documents like the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
Mr. Rogers was a pretty cool dude — for a pasty old white man. Too bad he and his ideas couldn’t make their way into the real world. Still, it was nice to dream about one day living in a more equitable and just society, a beloved community, a land where nothing was impossible. I miss Mr. Rogers.