Sadly, Joanne Rogers, the wife of Fred Rogers, the creator and host of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” died on Thursday at her home in Pittsburgh. Mrs. Rogers said in a TEDx Talk in 2018, “So much a part of me was Fred. One of the things he talked about was making goodness attractive, and I think that’s something that we can try to do, and it’s quite an assignment.”
Fred Rogers considered the number “143” to be a very special number. According to The 143 Club, an organization that provides financial support to the Fred Rogers Center, he once said, “It takes one letter to say I and four letters to say love and three letters to say you. One hundred and forty-three.” In fact, he liked the number so much that he maintained the weight of 143 pounds for the last 30 years of his life.
The level of will that Mr. Rogers had, both physically and mentally, was understated. But nothing manifested his will better than the number 143. And nothing captures the spirit and strength of his character than the May 9, 1969 episode of “Mister. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” In that episode, Mr. Rogers made a statement about how ridiculous it was for white people to not want black people to swim in the same swimming pool in pools around the country. He took a stand against racial inequality when he invited Officer Clemmons, a black policeman, to join him in a small pool on a hot summer day. They both took off their shoes and socks, cuffed their pants and had a friendly conversation while wading their feet in a small plastic children’s pool.
Fifty years later, we’re still fighting racial inequality, unfortunately. The more things change, the more they stay the same. While our culture has dramatically changed, there is still a feeling of inequality. If you do a root cause analysis of why people still feel that way, I believe the answer points to their inability to embrace 143. They simply can’t universally say “I love you” to others, no matter their color, gender or ethnicity. It’s a matter of the heart. Whether a white person doesn’t want a black person in their pool, or a black “diversity, equity and inclusion” executive labels God-fearing white patriotic Americans as “white supremacist,” neither viewpoint is constructive or helps the conversation.
To truly unify our society, we need bold leaders, like Fred Rogers, to enter worldly arenas with a kind, gentle, compassionate and forgiving heart AND an indomitable spirit determined to influence minds and hearts to usher in God’s Kingdom on Earth. We need to nurture these types of “neighborhoods” of influence.
We all need to make 143 our favorite number, just like Mr. Rogers. Then it will truly be a beautiful day in our neighborhood.