What America needs now is Mr. Rogers

I was about five years old when I wrote my first fan letter. It was the 1980s, but it wasn't addressed to a pop star ...

Posted: Mar 4, 2018 9:14 AM
Updated: Mar 4, 2018 9:14 AM

I was about five years old when I wrote my first fan letter. It was the 1980s, but it wasn't addressed to a pop star of the day like Madonna or Cyndi Lauper.

It was to Fred Rogers -- the host of PBS' "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," my favorite show at the time.

What was I dying to tell him? I wrote about how much I loved watching his show. I told him about myself and how I was in a wheelchair, having been born with a rare genetic bone and muscular disorder.

To my surprise, he wrote back, telling me how nice it was to hear from me. He also sent me a book about a boy in a wheelchair. When I got that package in the mail, I felt like I'd just won the lottery. I'll never forget it.

That was 30 years ago, Fred Rogers died in 2003, and episodes of the show stopped airing in 2008. But Rogers' compassion and kindness have stayed with me ever since. I smile every time I think about it. Why? Because pure, unselfish kindness seems so rare these days.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, I've been thinking a lot about his legacy and how lost kids like me would have been without it. The show's kind of gentle, educational programming could so easily be cut down without the support of federal dollars. And President Trump's proposed 2019 budget would eliminate all federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which supplies money to both PBS and NPR. This move would have disastrous consequences, according to CPB president Patricia Harrison. In 2016, for instance, federal appropriations accounted for most of the agency's revenues.

I grew up with the wonders of public television. Shows like "Sesame Street" and "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" not only entertained me, but were also the building blocks of my education and the cornerstone of my childhood, teaching me all about numbers and spelling and even life skills like manners and how to make friends. And because of my disability, I couldn't get around as easily as the other kids my age, so at times, those shows were literally my window to the world. I may not have been able to climb on the playground equipment, but I sang along to Mister Rogers' opening song and hung out with Lady Elaine Fairchilde.

The world desperately needs more of Fred Rogers' genuine kindness.

That's why I was overjoyed at the news that Tom Hanks is set to star as Rogers in the upcoming biopic called "You Are My Friend," which director Marielle Heller described to "Variety" as a "message of kindness" and an "exploration of the human spirit" that she hopes will be "an antidote to our very fractured culture."

Biopics are certainly nothing new; well-known figures, from celebrities to politicians, have had their lives immortalized on the big and small screens. While telling and informative, these biopics are usually fun glimpses into the subject's life. A way to pull back the curtain on the fascinating life of a public figure.

But the Mister Rogers biopic? Somehow, this one feels different. There's a palpable urgency to its message, especially in light of the Trump administration's recent threats to the future of public media.

"There is no viable substitute for federal funding that ensures Americans have universal access to public media's educational and informational programming and services," Harrison said in a statement. "The elimination of federal funding to CPB would initially devastate and ultimately destroy public media's role in early childhood education, public safety, connecting citizens to our history, and promoting civil discussions - all for Americans in both rural and urban communities."

For me, Harrison is more right than even she might know. As a writer, I spend my days analyzing, making connections and exploring my feelings -- all skills I learned from Mister Rogers all those years ago. Like Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood was then, writing has now become my window to the world, a way to make sense of things, and there's such a freedom in that. A freedom despite my disability. There are no obstacles when I'm writing, no hurdles to jump over and nothing to hold me back. I'm not defined by anything, least of which, my disability.

Maybe all this is why I'm so scared of these kinds of programs going off the air. It's so important that the next generation have these positive influences in their lives. These days, kids have YouTube and video games on their iPads. Can you imagine a world where those types of things are the only big influences, the only things that help shape people into who they become? Thankfully, "Sesame Street" is still on the air, as well as other shows like "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" (itself an animated spin-off of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood") and "Thomas and Friends," but nothing has had the same longevity or cultural influence as "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." He was such a powerful role model for me growing up and the new generation needs that kind of role model now more than ever.

The simple kindness of a stranger can last a lifetime. Thanks to Mister Rogers, I'm living proof of that. I'm reminded every day that one person does have the power to make the world a better place, and we owe it to the next generation to ensure they know that sort of kindness too.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 39133

Reported Deaths: 1514
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin12597787
Ramsey4963229
Dakota242192
Stearns241419
Anoka2266109
Nobles16726
Olmsted114715
Washington113740
Mower9602
Rice8488
Scott7624
Clay59138
Kandiyohi5781
Blue Earth4942
Wright4835
Todd4012
Carver3951
Lyon3272
Sherburne3255
Freeborn2970
Watonwan2380
Steele2371
Benton2203
St. Louis19615
Nicollet17312
Martin1715
Cottonwood1360
Goodhue1318
Winona12915
Crow Wing10812
Le Sueur1081
Pine1070
Chisago1021
Otter Tail1001
McLeod920
Dodge880
Carlton870
Unassigned8537
Polk822
Chippewa791
Isanti750
Waseca710
Douglas650
Murray650
Itasca6412
Meeker611
Morrison611
Faribault600
Pipestone592
Becker570
Jackson550
Sibley542
Pennington520
Renville362
Beltrami340
Brown342
Mille Lacs342
Wabasha330
Rock310
Fillmore300
Yellow Medicine300
Houston270
Swift221
Wilkin213
Norman200
Redwood190
Koochiching181
Grant170
Roseau170
Cass162
Aitkin150
Big Stone150
Kanabec151
Wadena150
Marshall120
Pope120
Lincoln100
Mahnomen101
Clearwater90
Hubbard80
Lake60
Stevens50
Traverse50
Lac qui Parle40
Red Lake40
Kittson20
Cook10
Lake of the Woods00

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 32064

Reported Deaths: 731
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk6739181
Woodbury326044
Black Hawk232358
Buena Vista171911
Johnson13408
Linn130482
Dallas129129
Marshall106019
Scott84510
Story8063
Pottawattamie74512
Dubuque74222
Wapello70830
Crawford6783
Muscatine64944
Sioux4810
Tama46829
Wright3851
Louisa36313
Jasper32517
Plymouth3245
Warren2911
Dickinson2663
Webster2484
Washington2459
Cerro Gordo1901
Hamilton1891
Boone1501
Clay1370
Allamakee1334
Clarke1333
Mahaska11717
Shelby1170
Clinton1131
Poweshiek1078
Carroll991
Pocahontas981
Bremer957
Franklin950
Des Moines912
Emmet870
Henry863
Cedar851
Hardin810
Taylor800
Monona770
Cherokee761
Floyd732
Marion710
Benton681
Guthrie684
Jones640
Sac640
Jefferson620
Osceola620
Buchanan601
Butler592
Hancock551
Humboldt551
Calhoun542
Harrison540
Lee542
Iowa530
Delaware511
Monroe517
Fayette500
Madison482
Lyon450
Clayton443
Davis411
Mitchell410
Palo Alto410
Grundy400
Mills390
Winneshiek390
Kossuth360
Howard340
Jackson340
Union340
Lucas314
Chickasaw290
Greene290
Winnebago290
Cass240
Ida230
Appanoose213
Keokuk211
Van Buren210
Page200
Worth200
Adair160
Audubon161
Unassigned160
Ringgold150
Decatur120
Montgomery102
Wayne100
Adams80
Fremont80
Rochester
Clear
85° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 90°
Mason City
Clear
81° wxIcon
Hi: 93° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 86°
Albert Lea
Broken Clouds
86° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 92°
Austin
Clear
84° wxIcon
Hi: 93° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 91°
Charles City
Clear
82° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 89°
Heat Advisory in effect until 7pm
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Sean's 6pm Weather 7/8

Image

Bishop writes to ask for clemency for Dustin Honken

Image

Catch a ride to stay cool

Image

Free masks in Rochester

Image

Boys & Girls Club back open

Image

Rochester Elementary School releases plans

Image

Working in the heat

Image

Potential job cuts for Austin city employees

Image

Free memory screenings being offered during pandemic

Image

1K Mile March: Alabama to Minneapolis

Community Events