I was completely oblivious to the impact Mr. Fred Rogers had on my life until I heard about the documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor. The amount of excitement I had to see the documentary could not be contained. Yet, when I tried to get other adults to attend with me, they were too busy “adulting” to go. Though I was busy as well, I felt it was worth sacrificing all of my tasks to watch this screening. I even had someone decline because they felt it was pushing a gay agenda. I took my 10 year old date and kept it moving. I also confirmed that we adults have things really backwards.
I was told to arrive by 7pm and spent at least 30 minutes waiting before the movie started. Those that know how impatient I am, know I was on pins and needles. I learned about the Houston Film Fanatics group which is a group that writes film reviews for the Houston community. Once the film finally began, I couldn’t help but smile 80% of the time. I thought I understood how amazing Mr. Rogers was when I was a child, but the film brought back subconscious memories that I had not thought about in decades.
My childhood was far from perfect. It is more accurate to say that most of my environment growing up was very toxic. Nevertheless, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was one of the places I could escape and focus on love. I recall arguing with my older brother over the television as he wanted to watch WWF (and often won the fight). He also constantly called Mr. Rogers a weirdo which I always defended. After watching this documentary, I realized why I was drawn to him.
Mr. Rogers was the first person in my life to teach me that being who I am (unapologetically) was fine. I always felt different whether it was at school, church, or with my family. No one in the world was like me. I even took it upon myself to visit my neighbors often and had no idea that was from the encouragement of Mr. Rogers. I even went to the mean lady’s house who’s house often smelled of urine (because she was a senior citizen with no help) and my family would wonder if their 6 year old had bumped her head. Sharing love with my neighbors gave me joy. Now that I am retrospective, I realize the senior citizens in my community understood my mission and appreciated it because they were often forgotten.
Mr. Rogers was the advocate for those often overlooked. He was the inclusion movement. He understood that children were sponges and the impact of what they watched could shape their minds forever. It is amazing to me that evil still tries to persist but love still conquers all. I find it disturbing that as an adult, all I hear about Mr. Rogers is that he was gay. Even when I first heard that I still remember responding with, ok, I still love him. Well, the documentary addresses the fact that Mr. Rogers is not gay (spoiler alert). I also learned that he is an ordained minister, anyone ever here that one? No!
We need more people like Mr. Rogers on television. People who genuinely care about the well being of children. Not marketers exploiting children to increase market share. I applaud Mr. Rogers for encouraging me to be me. For accepting people as uniquely as they are. For focusing on inclusion before it was as a hot topic. My four year old self knew his authenticity and will forever be grateful for access to public television that gave me access to someone like Mr. Rogers who genuinely cared for me. Go see Won’t You Be My Neighbor at River Oaks Theater starting June 15th.