For most of his adult life, “Mister” Fred Rogers tried to stay at 143 pounds.
It had little to do with health. The late children’s television pioneer and Pennsylvania’s kindest native son saw the number as something more significant and spoke of “143” as representative of the brand of goodness he wanted to bring to the world. There’s one letter in “I,” four in “love,” and three in “you."
As an homage to Rogers, Gov. Tom Wolf will declare May 23, the 143rd day of the year, as “143 Day in Pennsylvania.” The proclamation will be coupled with a statewide campaign challenging Pennsylvanians to do one kind thing for a neighbor, whether it’s buying a cup of coffee for a stranger in line at the store or writing a thank-you note to the mail carrier.
The statewide day of kindness, which will be publicized via a social media campaign and an online “kindness generator,” is meant to serve as an antidote to the seemingly relentless news cycle and “all the negativity that we surround ourselves with,” said Carrie Fischer Lepore, the state’s deputy secretary of marketing, tourism, and film. She said the state also hopes to partner with corporations and other public agencies.
“We’re really hoping this is going to be a statewide movement,” she said, “to inspire kindness and neighborly deeds.”
Rogers, who died in 2003, created and starred in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, the children’s series that ran on PBS from 1968 to 2001. Born in the small town of Latrobe, the cardigan-wearing ordained minister wasn’t shy about his Pittsburgh-area roots and the fact that his actual neighborhood outside the confines of television was here in Pennsylvania.
His legacy of love figured prominently in the zeitgeist last year, which marked the 50th anniversary of the first episode of his show and the release of Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the documentary about his life. Around the same time, the state Department of Community and Economic Development launched the Fred Rogers Trail, a multi-stop guide for fans to trek around Latrobe and Pittsburgh to remember Rogers at some of the places that tell his story best.
The “143 Day” campaign this year will be adopted by Pennsylvania’s state agencies, which will change their logos on social media to spread awareness about the day, Lepore said. They’ll encourage Pennsylvanians to use the online “kindness generator” to get ideas for good deeds, and then share those actions on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #143DayinPA so the message will spread further.
“This is not about trying to inspire travel,” Lepore said. “This is purely about trying to inspire kindness and gratitude and love for our neighbors.”
Part of Rogers’ fame came from his ability to put his hopes for the world into words. He has dozens of celebrated quotes that boil down into lessons, the most well-known being his program sign-off: “You’ve made this day a special day by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are.”
But this campaign pays tribute to a lesser-known Rogers-ism, one Lepore said captures the spirit of what the state is hoping to accomplish:
“Imagine what our real neighborhoods would be like,” he once said, “if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person.”