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raceAhead: What Would Mr. Rogers Do About Immigration?

June 18, 2018, 7:02 PM UTC

I learned Fred Rogers had died while I was on the 2 train.

I don’t remember where I was going on February 27, 2003, only that I was heading downtown. Someone got on the train at 72nd Street and said out loud, to no one in particular, “Oh my God! Mr. Rogers died!”

After a collective gasp, everyone immediately began to talk to each other. Somewhere before Times Square, a quiet chorus of “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” had started. As I remember it, everyone sang or nodded along. When the doors opened at 42nd Street, new passengers looked startled by the singing, until someone barked in that New York way, “What’s going on!?”

That routine happened in the same order at every station until I got off at Chambers Street: the demand for information, the gasps, the talking and then the singing along.

Portrait Of Mister Rogers
Portrait of American educator and television personality Fred Rogers (1928 – 2003) of the television series ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,’ circa 1980s. (Photo by Fotos International/Courtesy of Getty Images)Fotos International Getty Images
Fotos International/Getty Images

There is something special about a moment that people get to experience all at once. It’s partly why the very idea that Mexico might have had a self-induced earthquake in collective World Cup glee is so delightful.

I think about that subway ride often, especially lately. It’s such a tender memory precisely because the news of Rogers’ passing caused us to take off our subway masks long enough to see each other. I think he would have loved that. (He also might have enjoyed that this newly released documentary about his life’s work has become such a hit.)

But it was also a chance to process an event with real people in real time. That doesn’t happen very often.

These days, our news tends to come from an always-on machine in our hands, which lacks the basic rules of judicious engagement that New York subway riders intuitively follow. It’s just a fire hose in your head. By the time we get to work or school, we’re sitting in a flood of information, some real, some not. Sometimes it’s a trade war, sometimes it’s Bey and Jay.

All weekend, my fire hose was consumed by a massive fight about asylum seekers at the U.S. border. People have also been debating whether or not a chain-linked wall enclosing traumatized children should really be called a fence. That’s probably why I woke up with Mr. Rogers on my mind.

Turns out, he still has my back. A few months before Rogers died, he recorded a final message to his now-adult fans, a love letter to the people he’d helped raise. Give it a listen; it’s a balm for a difficult age.

I’m just so proud of all of you who have grown up with us. And I know how tough it is some days to look with hope and confidence on the months and years ahead. But I would like to tell you what I often told you when you were much younger.

I like you just the way you are.

And what’s more, I’m so grateful to you, for helping the children in your life to know that you’ll do everything you can to keep them safe. And to help them express their feelings in ways that will bring healing in many different neighborhoods.

It’s such a good feeling to know that we’re lifelong friends.

Have a good Monday, friends.

On Point

The number of black employees at JP Morgan falls for the sixth year in a rowDespite a public commitment to recruit more black employees, the financial titan seems to be losing ground. Its most recent diversity report shows black employees at 13.4 percent, down from 16 percent in 2011. Despite the downward trend, JPMorgan is still outpacing their industry rivals, and are seeing a slight increase in black executives. Bloomberg

A new report highlights the degree attainment gap for black and Latinx adults
The Education Trust, a non-profit dedicated to closing the education achievement gaps for students of color and those from low-income families, has published The State Of Higher Equity Report. The data is broken down by age (but not gender), degree level, and, because degree attainment varies widely, by U.S. state, too. They also have provided detailed infographics for downloading and embedding in your own analyses. While there have been gains in each demographic, the overall gap doesn’t seem to be narrowing: Compared with 47.1 percent of white adults, slightly more than 30 percent of black adults and 22 percent of Latinx adults have earned some form of college degree.
The Education Trust

White nationalists find a home on Google Plus
According to an investigation from The Hill, neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups have taken refuge on Google Plus after many were booted off of Facebook and Twitter in the aftermath of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville last year. While it’s unclear how many of the groups are still active, the links and memes are still live. In other cases, the groups appear to have members ranging from hundreds to thousands. “The community and the recruitment happens there. Whether it’s Google Plus, Twitter or other platforms, it’s significant,” said one expert. “We’ve seen how online activity leads to real-world consequences.”
The Hill

What the World Cup teaches us about racism
Jermaine Scott, is a PhD candidate in the Department of African American Studies at Northwestern University. But he’s also a first generation American of Jamaican descent, who grew up in a community that told him that soccer was a white kid’s game. His first World Cup, in 1998, opened his eyes to the meaning of futball around the world – and that it was "the black world’s game,” too. But he was surprised to find so many black players on European and South American teams that he didn’t associate with black citizens. It was then that he began to see the more sinister side of representation, he says. “If countries weren’t excluding black players, they were overstating an egalitarian society that masked the persistence of black subjugation.” This year, Russian fans were fined for racist taunts, for example. “[E]ven outside the football stadium, beyond the boundary of the field, black people are structurally relegated to second-class citizenship.”
The Undefeated


The Woke Leader

On the anniversary of the deadly shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston
I’m re-sharing this beautiful essay by Jamil Smith, written in the painful aftermath of Dylan Roof’s terrible attack three years ago. He talks about how he first sought out his own pastor to see how he was faring. “It was an instinct rooted in my particular practice of Christianity; I need to pray, to worship, to seek guidance,” he wrote. But he reminds us of the history of the AME Church, and how necessary the black church has always been in a racist country. “A hated people need safe spaces, but often find they are scarce,” he writes. “That is racism’s purpose, its raison d’etre, and it has done its job well. The black church hasn’t been safe since there has been a black church.”
The New Republic

Celebrity chef David Chang opens up about his depression
In an episode of his podcast recorded two days after Anthony Bourdain’s death, Chang talked about his years-long struggle with depression before he sought help. Partly, it was the stigma. “I believe that depression affects Koreans a lot. It’s something that, in the past, particularly in an Asian household, the idea that you could get help for this was insane.” But it was also access to care. When he was first starting out, he didn’t have enough insurance or money to afford all the therapy he needed. At the time, overwork was his way of coping. “We weren‘t going to be around in 10 years because I was not supposed to be alive. I made almost every decision like it was going to be a one-way ticket.” 

The history of race in criminal justice reform
PBS Newshour spent some quality time with Bryan Stevenson, who earned his spot on Fortune’s World’s Greatest Leaders list for his advocacy for more equity in the criminal justice system. In addition to calling for reforms in prison overcrowding and violence, Stevenson gives a history lesson in race, power, and justice - a preview of his appearance at the upcoming CEO Initiative.


If I pass away one day, I am happy because I tried to do my best. My sport allowed me to do so much because it’s the biggest sport in the world.