I wanted to share a picture today, one that has been giving me hope:
I wanted to share the story behind this picture, of Officer Clemmons, played by actor and playwright François Clemmons, and Fred Rogers. It’s a still from a scene of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood in which Mr. Rogers invites his friend to cool off in the pool, on a hot day.
(This picture is actually from 24 years after the original segment aired on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood in 1969, when Mr. Clemmons and Mr. Rogers re-created the scene; click here for a lovely video, featuring François Clemmons sharing about his experiences as Ofc. Clemmons, and working with Mr. Rogers on the show and in which you can view footage of the original segment.)
You most likely remember Fred Rogers, and many of your kiddos probably love watching Daniel Tiger, a creation of Mr. Rogers’, on PBS.
But you may not know actor and playwright François Clemmons.
And you may not know the significance of this picture, taken from a video segment of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, in which Mr. Rogers – in real life an ordained minister – washes the feet of Officer Clemmons, played by his friend and colleague Mr. Clemmons.
For a minister to wash someone’s feet is a big deal, and at the time the original video aired, in May 1969, lots of white ministers were refusing to wash lots of Black peoples’ feet.
Even the idea of Officer Clemmons and Mr. Rogers sharing the same water in a pool was a big deal.
In this article from the Pittsburgh City Paper, Mr. Clemmons shared the following:
“White people did not want Black people to swim in their swimming pools and were putting acid and other kinds of poisons in [pools],” Clemmons says. “So it was dealing with something that was very serious in this country. But here we were, showing an alternative, a different way, an option, saying to people, “You know you don’t have to do that.””
Why should it matter if two human beings sit together with their feet in the same pool on a hot day? Who could possibly question the validity of two friends, enjoying each other’s company in this way?
It simply shouldn’t matter.
People can be friends and family, no matter what they look like.
That’s a principal I hold dear, and one I will really want to teach my children. And it’s one, I’ve been so happy to see, they have internalized and made their own.
Since I learned of the friendship between these two men, and the significance of these video segments they created together, I’ve been struggling to understand why, to some, the friendship and the swimming pool aren’t okay.
But this week I decided that the why doesn’t matter.
I don’t need to worry about how someone might justify basing their judgment of another person on an unimportant factor like skin color.
It’s just totally wrong.
The whole idea of racism is totally wrong.
And I wanted to share their story with you today, and finish today’s newsletter with this message:
Sharing our principles – teaching them to our children – doesn’t have to be complicated.
It doesn’t have to be frightening.
It can be as simple as putting ourselves into another’s shoes, and helping our children do that too.
We can support the positive principles and the things that we want to see in the world, without “feeding” the bad wolf (as the Parable of the 2 Wolves describes.)
I put together a page for you, available at https://weturnedoutokay.com/bias, where I gathered up several of the resources I turn to again and again, when I’m trying to understand how to have an impact while feeding the good wolf.
I hope they’re helpful. Above all I hope that you think of me as a support, riding the waves as we all are together of this pandemic, its aftermath, and building a world where everyone feels loved and supported.
Thank you for reading,
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