Now Is The Time to Love Your Neighbor

By Meridith St. Jean

Earlier this month, Sony Pictures Entertainment released a trailer for its new biopic on Fred Rogers, star of the long-running kid’s show, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”. 

This marks the second movie made about Fred Rogers in just over a year. (The first, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” was the highest-grossing biographical documentary of all time.) 

It begs the question: why is America so desperate to hear from Fred Rogers nearly 20 years after his show’s finale? 

The answer is simple. At a time when partisan politics dominate our national narrative and TV pundits seem out of touch with reality, we’re all looking for something a little more real. And what’s more real than your neighbor or the community you live in? 

That’s why the National League of Cities created the Love My City campaign. In an effort to lift-up the real, tangible love we all feel for the places we call home, we’re calling on local leaders, corporate partners, and most of all residents, to share why they love their community. 

Some of the responses to the campaign have been illuminating: 

Stephanie from Atlanta, Georgia says, “Not much better than a run by the river.” 

In Columbia, South Carolina, Rocki writes, “I love the shade of yellow the leaves on the ginko trees turn in the fall.” 

Sharyn from Philadelphia says—presumably in a classic Philadelphian accent, “Philadelphia has the richest history, best ambassadors, greatest music roots, best food & neighborhoods full of character & love. It’s MY jawn!” 

An artist in Kinston, North Carolina says, “#loveMycity for its fighting spirit to grow and surpass its challenges and the love it shows for its people. And for those who express that love back in the work and care they do for it. ❤️”

Erica in Lexington, South Carolina loves watching the town’s sanitation team pick up the trash in front of her house with her toddler son. 

And Sylvia from Goodyear, Arizona writes simply, “My grandkids live here.” 

It’s a warm feeling to know that there are thousands of people across this country living out Mister Rogers’ legacy everyday by reaching out and connecting to their neighbors. 

But while Mister Rogers’ neighborhood may seem idyllic compared to today, it’s important to remember the time period during which the show aired. Beginning in 1962, the show ran through 2001. During those years, American society was nothing short of tumultuous. 

The Civil Rights movement; the Vietnam War; the Watergate Scandal; the Gulf War; the AIDS epidemic; massive changes in technology—these are just some of the events that shaped American society while the show was running. In many ways, the America of today is not so different from Mister Rogers’ America. 

Take for example one of his most famous episodes. In 1969, Mister Rogers, who was white, invited Officer Clemmons, who is black, to join him in soaking his bare feet in a backyard kitty pool on a hot summer’s day. 

This was a significant moment for two reasons. The first, because while America was technically desegregated at the time, pools in 1969 were still shutting out black people, just one example of a society that had yet to reconcile with structural racism. The gesture was symbolic, meant to breakdown stereotypes and encourage people to reach out to their neighbors. 

“Their casual intimacy exposed the bigotry of denying black citizens access to pools, or any other place in society.”

The second reason this is significant is because Francois Clemmons, who played the officer, was, in fact, reluctant to do so. 

Many years later, in an interview with Karl Lindholm, Clemmons said, “Fred came to me and said, “I have this idea, you could be a police officer.” That kind of stopped me in my tracks. I grew up in the ghetto. I did not have a positive opinion of police officers. Policemen were sicking police dogs and water hoses on people. And I really had a hard time putting myself in that role. So I was not excited about being Officer Clemmons at all.” 

Mister Rogers’ neighborhood may have been a peaceful one, but the world outside of it was not. And one of the reasons he was so beloved was because of — not despite — the way he explored the issues of his time.  

Our neighborhoods may be peaceful, but the world around us is not. What we have learned from Mister Rogers is, that despite the animosity, discontent and political punditry we see on TV, it is incumbent upon us to find and perform the compassion we wish to see. 

That’s what the Love My City Campaign is all about. It’s a beautiful day to tell us why you love your neighborhood, don’t you think?

About the author: Meridith St. Jean is the senior digital content specialist at the National League of Cities.