It was a simple, plastic swimming pool. But it meant so much more.
In May of 1969, Fred Rogers recorded episode #1065 of PBS’s Mister Rogers Neighborhood. In this episode Officer Clemmons, played by a black actor named Francois Clemmons, was stopping by to visit Mister Rogers’ house on a hot day. Mister Rogers was cooling his feet in the plastic pool that hot day. He invited Officer Clemmons to sit, and the two men had a chat while they both cooled their feet in the pool.
This imagery was significant in 1969, because despite the Civil Rights Act passage almost five years earlier, many public pools were still segregated. This simple act of compassion on Mister Rogers Neighborhood meant more. It was a way of showing tens of thousands of young viewers that there was no reason that people of different races couldn’t sit together or share a pool together. Officer Clemmons was Mr. Rogers’s friend. It was hot. The human thing to do was to ask if he’d like to sit for a bit and cool off. A simple act of kindness and inclusion that they could model for their fellow humans. Our children learn from our actions, not only our words.
However, when justice and compassion are what the situation demands, the right thing to do is to take a stand. We know children watch our actions, and we know it’s important to speak up when justice is not being applied equally.
As we see cities across the U.S. struggling with the collective legacy of four centuries of racism in the United States, we at WUCF stand with our black colleagues, friends, and loved ones in their demand for a more just and compassionate society. As a result, we plan to use our voice to help parents and children understand how to have conversations about race, fairness and justice. Here is what we plan to do, beginning now…
First, in our Meet The Helpersseries, we’ll be adding videos to help parents talk with their children about social justice, inequity and how to help.
Then, this Friday at 8:30 p.m., WUCF will also produce an extended version of NewsNight, focusing on what’s happening here in Central Florida and interviews with key leaders on what’s being done locally. Friday at 9:00 p.m., we’ll also have a specialNewsNight Conversations: A Question of Race: Answers for Kids, giving time for experts in child psychology, social justice and education to discuss how to talk to children about racism and current events. At 9:30 p.m., PBS NewsHour airs with a new special, Race Matters - America in Crisis.
50 years ago, Mister Rogers and Officer Clemmons shared that pool. It may seem to us that we have not made progress from those days. Indeed, much work yet remains to create a just and compassionate society. At WUCF, we will join our voices with those demanding progress and change to make our society more just and fairer.
We know that tens of thousands of children and parents of all backgrounds are watching our actions.
-- Dr. Phil Hoffman, WUCF Executive Director