Fred Rogers became famous because of the neighborhood he inhabited on his television show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, a place of respite where children could grapple with problems as small as tying shoes and as large as war. But his real-life neighborhood was Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
On Saturday, 11 people were murdered during Shabbat services at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, the deadliest act of anti-Semitism in the nation’s history. Only days before, in a separate incident, two African-American people were killed in Kentucky; the shooter had originally planned to target a historically African-American church.
With racism and violence rendering dangerous some of the places that children have previously thought of as safe, children — like the adults in their lives — are struggling to make sense of the world in which we live.
Mister Rogers offered a way to engage with the difficult questions that traumatic events can raise. Throughout his decades-long career, he deployed gentleness to be radically honest with generations of children about topics that can be hard to discuss, including death, bigotry, divorce, and anxiety.
Rogers, who was trained and ordained as a Presbyterian minister, rarely shied away from speaking to children about the issues of the day, issues that continue to be relevant.