Growing up in China, Junlei Li did not spend his childhood watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.
In fact, his first experience with Mr. Rogers was as an adult living in the U.S. when he saw Eddie Murphy’s impression on Saturday Night Live.
Li eventually went back and watched old episodes of the beloved children’s show and grew to appreciate Fred Rogers and his message.
“There was a real connection, I think, when Fred looked into the television when he was taping,” Li said. “He’s not thinking about broadcasting to millions of children. He would always say, ‘I’m thinking about this one child who’s there and perhaps the one parent who’s standing nearby and listening.’”
Li now works as the co-director of the Fred Rogers Center in Latrobe and is teaching an ongoing seminar combining psychology, child development and theology at St. Vincent College called, “What Would Fred Rogers Do?”
Rogers’ reach is cross cultural, he said. Li sometimes goes back to China to work with an organization helping orphans with disabilities. He said he’ll often use some of Rogers’ sayings in training material.
“But they were moved to tears by his words,” Li said. “Even if these were just words I transcribed onto a video.”
One of Rogers’ most important messages, said Li, is the idea that anything worth doing takes effort – whether that be learning to share or going to school. Li said Rogers told children to be proud if they tried something and failed, but tried again.
“There’s just something about Fred that gets to the essence of what is essential and beautiful in human culture,” Li said.
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