After Pittsburgh shooting in Mr. Rogers’ real-life neighborhood, Squirrel Hill neighbors follow his lead
Fotos International/Getty Images(PITTSBURGH) — Just a few blocks down from the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, remarkably close by foot to the horrific scene where 11 worshippers were gunned down during Saturday services, sits the home where a man named Fred Rogers once lived.
He’s the same Fred Rogers who created the fictional “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” PBS show for generations of children, a place that honored humanity in all its hues and all its manifestations.
On his show, that Fred Rogers sang about acceptance and told his audience constantly, “I’m glad you’re the way you are.” He stood steel-backboned against the kind of sick thinking that led to Saturday’s massacre.
This now grieving Squirrel Hill community was Fred Rogers’ real life neighborhood.
And were he here today — Rogers died in 2003 — it’s easy to imagine him finding some glimpse of hope, or calm, or meaning in what happened to his former neighbors, because that’s what he did in difficult times.
“I’m just so proud of all of you,” Rogers told his viewers on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. “And I know how tough it is some days to look with hope and confidence on the months and years ahead.”
And late in life, he shared something his mother had told him about how to get through times like those.
“Whenever there would be any real catastrophe, she would say, ‘Always look for the helpers,’ he said in a 1999 interview. ‘There will always be helpers just on the sidelines.’”
And how it would warm Rogers’ heart to see “the helpers” show up in his old neighborhood.
Helpers likes Dr. Jeffery Cohen — who left his house across the street from the Tree of Life synagogue to rush over and help.
“I went down and said [to first responders], ‘Can I be of any help to you? If somebody’s hurt and you need somebody, I’m a surgeon, I can go in and help,’” Cohen told ABC News.
In the end, there was not much Cohen could do on the scene. Today, as he mourned the friends he lost, he called on the nation’s leaders to take action.
“I think it’s time for leaders to stand up and lead and be the helpers.” he said.
“I’m not saying any one side is worse than the other, but I’m also not saying not one side is better than the other. It’s all of us,” he added.
That message, that “it’s all of us,” was echoed by one of Pittsburgh’s Muslim leaders, Wasi Mohamed, who publicly joined the grieving at a vigil Sunday, offering his community’s support because he remembers the Jewish victims’ families standing up for Pittsburgh’s Muslims in tough times, particularly right after 9/11.
“We love that community, they’ve done so much here,” said Mohamed, who is the executive director of Islamic Center of Pittsburgh and Engage Pennsylvania.
“If they needed financial support, if they needed people showing up to protect them at services, going to the grocery store — this is what they do and we have to repay them.
“And anything that we can do to feel more safe, make sure that one individual’s darkness doesn’t make them feel unwelcome in this city.”
People were also lined up to donate blood, many saying they just wanted to do something –- to help.
“The patience that people are demonstrating today — waiting to donate blood is Pittsburgh, it’s community,” said Kristen Lane, a spokeswoman for the blood bank Vitalant Pittsburgh.
“They’re saying, ‘Alright, I’m not going to get angry, I’m not going to get frustrated, I’m just going to take the time required so I can give blood and replenish the supply that was used by the victims of the terrible shooting.’”
Lana Ramsey, one of the blood donors, wore a t-shirt with a Fred Rogers’ saying written on it: “I will be your neighbor.”
“Time isn’t really a commodity that I have much of, but I can donate blood, it’s the least that I can do to help,” she said.
“So I figured I’d call my boss this morning. I said, ‘My heart’s broken for my city, and I need to go do something.’ She said, ‘Go, go do whatever you’ve got to do.’”
A house nearby had a sign that captured the spirit of Fred Rogers.
“No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor,” suggesting the people here know where they live … in a real neighborhood.
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