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A More “Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”

Click “Like” if Fred Rogers is your hero?main.jpg

“Rodgie”—as I called him as a child—was and is one of my heroes, and I know that I’m not alone in this sentiment. I can say that nearly every morning as a young child, I turned on PBS, and watched, listened, and learned with my favorite TV neighbor.

Now, 30 years later, watching Mr. Rogers with my own kid, I am happily swept back to a beautiful time when and I learned about feelings, making crayons, Yo-Yo Ma, cooperation, friendship, and caring for animals—especially the fish. For his talent, persistence, patience, humility, I am grateful to have experienced it all first hand, while he was still with us.

Pam Costain, president and CEO of Achieve Mpls and guest speaker at June’s Breakfast of Champions, spoke to us with conviction and candor and posed the question “Who influences us? Who mentors us? Who are we drawn to as leaders to learn from?”

For me, at a time that was so critical to my child development, that person was Fred Rogers. For Pam Costain, it was the incomparable U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone. She first met Wellstone when she was a 19-year-old sophomore at Carleton College where he was a political science professor. Knowing him transformed her life. She considered him her mentor and friend. She worked on Wellstone campaign, until the tragic plane crash in 2002 that took his life, that of his wife, their daughter, and three staffers. She then went to work building Wellstone Action for five years, followed by four years on the Minneapolis School Board, and has been at Achieve Mpls now for four years.

Pam believes deeply that “people are the agents of change” and “relationships are the glue” that makes things move together. Many of us present on June 8, of course, echo that sentiment since we are all working in some capacity for the greater good. The majority of us present that morning are also working specifically in the field of education or social services in support of education. So, every day, our work is focused on youth and adult education. But our discussion with Pam helped remind me that while our day-to-day work is critical, what we do away from our desks can also have a huge impact on the future for the young people in our community.

At a time where we are perpetually determining a monetary value for things (A postage stamp from the 1900’s just sold for 9 million dollars last week) I want to ask you, “How much was your education worth to you?” Go all the way back to pre-school or kindergarden. What was it worth?

If you had had a dramatically different experience during your school years, do you think you would be in the position you are today? The person you are today? Successfully and passionately serving clients and communities through a nonprofit organization?

Now I’ll ask you another question. Did you vote for school board in the last election? Or ever?

This is where organizations like Achieve Mpls play a critical role in our community. They are the advocate, the voice, the bridge to connect the community to the school district. They fundraise; they research; they communicate; they build movements and public will. They support the district while walking the tight rope of their deeply held values and convictions and progressive goals.

Back to Mr. Rogers. Have you heard his testimony before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Communications in 1969? It’s six minutes of your day that will wow you. Can you imagine what he would have to say to us now, with the conditions children are facing both at school and at home? Can you imagine what he might say about padded seclusion rooms? The recent school shootings? The crisis of our drop-out rates? I think he would be gravely concerned about what is happening to education and to our kids and we should be, too.

Each of us is called to speak out just like Fred Rogers did so articulately in his testimony. Though we work for the greater good everyday in our jobs, we can’t forget that we have a responsibility to go beyond that. What is it worth to you that every other kid, regardless of their luck in life, got to have the same chance to discover the leader, the genius, in themselves?

I would say it’s worth everything I got.

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” — Fred Rogers

really want to be Mr. Roger’s hero. Will you join me?

“Hey, kiddo! Hand mommy my zip-front cardigan. Let’s lace up our sneakers and get to work.”


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