“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ ”
That’s what Fred Rogers urged the children who watched “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” to do when they were fearful or anxious. This wonderfully comforting statement closes “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” the documentary about him. By the time the credits roll, there’s not a dry eye in the house.
Those words are a lifeline right now. Like Fred Rogers, they are quaint, sort of like the trolley that trundled through the Neighborhood of Make Believe, a bit corny in this jaded, reality TV world of ours. Still, there’s a wealth of wisdom in them.
I am a teacher and an activist; I’m no shrinking violet when it comes to facing up to challenges and figuring out how to overcome them. Like many of you, I really get engaged (and enraged) when anything or anyone threatens to diminish the opportunities I believe all students should have. Lately, however, it feels like every hour adds one more challenge to the towering, teetering, mountain ahead of us. (Can you relate?)
Toddlers at the border are forced from their mothers’ arms as parents beg for asylum.
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling makes it more difficult for educators and other working people to amplify their voices through unions and advocate for fair pay and benefits.
The Trump administration moves to end the measures colleges and universities use to promote diversity on campuses.
Environmental regulations intended to slow climate change, limit pollution, and curb carbon car emissions are rolled back.
That is only a partial list, yet it’s enough to make even the hardiest souls among us a little shaky. Time for a line from another movie, “The Devil Wears Prada”:
Time for thinking back on what our parents told us when we were disheartened or worried, and reconsidering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words from many years ago: “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”
Even now, I see the stars.
I see students taking to the streets and demanding that their schools and communities be safe from gun violence.
I see educators marching for their right to be treated with dignity, and paid salaries commensurate with the significance of their work.
I see educators and allies coming together to build power in their communities, joining the NEA Justice League.
I see people around the country standing up for the rights of Dreamers and immigrant families.
When I spoke to the delegates at the 2018 NEA Assembly and Representative Assembly a few weeks ago, I admitted to them that, for the first time in my life, during this past year and half I have actually felt hate, and I don’t like it. The worst part about it may be how disempowering it feels.
Thankfully, I recently heard this statement: You don’t win by destroying what you hate. You win by saving what you love. I think that’s what Fred Rogers would want us to do.
We can get active in the #RedForEd movement to advocate for the resources students need, and the respect and pay educators deserve.
We can commit to finding nine people to talk to about the importance of the U.S. Supreme Court. We can explain how crucial it is that the next justice be a fair-minded constitutionalist who believes in equality and justice for all, instead of Brett Kavanaugh, who would further advance an agenda that favors the wealthy and powerful.
We can stop wringing our hands about the choices politicians are making and run for office ourselves.
I’d love to hear from you about what you’re doing in your own neighborhood to change things for the better. Our only recourse today is not just to look for the helpers, but to become them. .