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Editor’s Letter – 3/20/19

Last night I went to Circle Cinema’s screening of the 2018 documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” about the life and lessons of Mr. Fred Rogers. The movie was great—yes, I cried, but I’m a crier—and left me meditating on the possibilities of radical kindness, practiced on yourself and others, as a way of being in and improving the world.

This was three days after 50 people were shot to death at Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Center in Christchurch, New Zealand. According to the terrorist’s body cam footage, which streamed on the same corners of the white-power web where the killer was radicalized, he was greeted before the rampage by his first victim: “Hello, brother.”  

Those words have been bouncing around in my head for days, twinned now with Fred Rogers’ unpacking of his long-running show’s neighborly theme song, whose tenderness seems alien after such horror: “It’s an invitation for somebody to be close to you.”

The open-hearted vulnerability of that welcoming, that word—brother—is made grotesque by the killing that followed. But if there’s energy worth hanging on to, it’s in the greeting and not the response. May we all be the person who sees a stranger and thinks, Here comes my kin. My brother. Be close to me.

You likely know the Fred Rogers quote about “[looking] for the helpers” in the face of tragedy. That’s a good one—but I’m partial to another: “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun, like ‘struggle.’”

It’s not enough to love our neighbors. We have to protect them, too. Fred Rogers understood that. It’s what made his message so radical. It’s also what animates this newspaper’s conception of social justice—which we try to practice, unapologetically, in our pages every two weeks.

You don’t have to look far to find these kinds of active helpers here in Tulsa. They’re the coalition standing up for undocumented immigrants; the people organizing to commute the sentences of women like Ashley Garrison, who feel the teeth of our criminal justice system at a dizzying rate; organizations like Women in Recovery and First Step, which give young women and men an alternative to incarceration; and the Tulsa SPCA, which advocates for animals—who, by all conceivable metrics, are better than people.

Last, with the dead from New Zealand on my heart, I’d like to leave you with the words of Muhammet Sezer, executive director of the Turkish Food and Art Festival in Broken Arrow: “There is a big misunderstanding about … people from the Middle East and Muslim world … Yes, we have differences, but at the end of the day, we are all human beings”.

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