In times like these, Mister Rogers' messages of kindness and caring still matter.

Walking through the days of these surreal times we are living through, there are so many opportunities to chat with masked, distanced people along the way.

On our daily walkabouts, always armed with my small notebook, I scribble observations and conversations. My favorite jottings come from kids, who always validate my belief in the importance of the arts in engaging, involving and intriguing participants. Children talk about oatmeal containers turned into drums, rock painting, coloring on wooden fences, building houses out of boxes, making up songs and dances—such exciting reports!

Following one of these delightful exchanges, a young grandmother changed the conversation with the question, “Where are our inspiring heroes when we need them?”

I did not have to think for more than one second to answer her. The person I thought of was a student of child development, a musician, a storyteller, a puppeteer, a writer, an ordained minister, a lover of the arts, a true friend of children. He created a neighborhood that was the safest place for everyone. Always respecting and honoring children, he was the best listener. He spoke softly, quietly, honestly. His motto was, “be kind, be kind, be kind.” His name is Fred Rogers.

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For more than 30 years, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was home to generations of young children who delighted in his real and imaginary friends. He wrote and sang over 200 songs. He tackled events and concerns troubling children, and comforted and reassured them with music, stories, puppets and friends. Rogers’ lasting legacy was recently honored with a major motion picture, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” starring Tom Hanks, as well as “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, a 2018 documentary.

When, in 1969, President Richard Nixon proposed halving $20 million in federal funding for public broadcasting, Rogers testified to a tough Senate committee. He ended six minutes of testimony (watch it on YouTube) with words to his song, “What Do You Do With the Mad That You Feel?” The chairman of the committee responded, “Looks like you just earned the $20 million.”

For 53 years, my dear friend Hedda Sharapan worked with Rogers. She helps to continue his legacy with the Fred Rogers Center at St. Vincent College and Fred Rogers Productions (whose shows include Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and Peg + Cat). She talks about the natural ways he infused the arts in all his ideas and themes. Hedda describes Fred as a “brilliant weaver” who for every program created “a tapestry where he wove together his background in music composition, his experiences in the early days of television production and his longtime studies of child development. No wonder his songs were so meaningful on so many levels.”

In fact, the Children’s Music Network is honoring Rogers with the 2020 Magic Penny Award for lifetime achievement in children’s music this fall.

Don’t you think this inspiring hero would be happy to read my little notebook filled with loving reports from kids sharing their joy in the arts? I do.

Mimi Brodsky Chenfeld is a longtime Columbus arts educator and author who works with children of all ages and encourages them to become creative, lifelong learners.

This story is from the Summer 2020 issue of Columbus Parent.