Please Won’t You Be My Neighbor?


Guest Post – from Janis Bookout

Janis Bookout is a local environmental leader and the Executive Director of Earth Day Austin.

This morning after saying hello to my neighbor and talking about our new sidewalk, I went inside humming the theme to Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. I saw the movie last Friday with my family. And I was moved to sit down and write about it this morning when I saw a blog about Rogers from Kazique Prince in my inbox. Kazique is one of our newest board members at Earth Day Austin, and he writes a blog called Equity Turned Up, in addition to playing an incredibly important role in our community. In his blog (read it here – it’s really good), Prince writes, “In this age of fallen heroes, it is a welcomed opportunity to experience a film depicting an honorable person who embraces the heart and comforts the soul.” 

Yes, that’s it exactly. And it’s also exactly where sustainability and equity intersect – in the love of people. Two scenes really got me. I mean not just lump-in-the-throat moved, but resonance down into my soul, and I want to share them with you. (Spoiler alert.)


Moment #1: Mr. Rogers asks Lloyd to have a moment of silence with him to think about all the people who loved us into being. The moment extends beyond the two of them as nearby diners overhear and take the moment as well, and then the whole restaurant falls silent, which makes the theatre fall silent, just before Tom Hanks (and Fred Rogers through him) look right at you. I let it in. All the love that gave me life and gives me life. And I was sitting right there with my family. My Mom and Dad. My sister and her wife. My grandparents. My husband. My children. My community. My friends. My board of directors. They ALL love me into being. I am so grateful for my life. Life is beautiful. And it’s nothing without our family and our neighbors. Which is to say, as human beings, life is people. All of them. We’re all connected. Like, really. 

That’s what sustainability is really about – loving people. Kindness to people. Not opinions, strategies, movements, politics, or even innovation. Yes, all those things can be vehicles for making a difference. But without equity at the center – without kindness to people at the center – there is nothing of value to sustain. Either life works for all of us, or it doesn’t work. We are connected in a web of life. We either honor that, or we don’t.

Prince goes on to share that he looked up a commencement speech that Fred Rogers gave in which he had said, “You don’t have to do anything sensational for people to love you.” (Watch the moment here.) Prince then comments that it may “seem antithetical to what most commencement speeches relay to the next generation called to conquer the world, beat a new drum, and aggressively pound the world into their image.”

Without love, our opinions, strategies, movements and innovations can sometimes create more in the opposite direction, can’t they? Maybe sometimes we are trying so hard to be somebody or fix something broken, we don’t act from wholeness or see the people in front of us. And we lose that connection. And as a result, we settle for making ourselves feel better that we tried our best and build narratives to justify our efforts, rather than deal with the real impact we are having and want to have. What is the point of our struggle if it leaves us and everyone less whole? Being right about how bad other people are? Or being right about our own failure?

Mr. Rogers took the moment to see you, actually be with you. And accept you for who you are and are not in the moment. Not like someone he already knew and could describe, but like someone he was discovering right there in the moment. Maybe that’s at the heart of sustainability – relationships. Our love for each other. To quote Prince again – “In my work in equity and inclusion, oftentimes that unconditional love is all too often missed or overlooked.”

And with love comes grief, which brings me to scene number 2. 

Moment #2: At the end, Mr. Rogers plays piano beautifully in the studio as the lights go off and the scene pans out. He all of a sudden bangs on the low end of the piano, and then keeps playing beautifully. It references an earlier part of the film when Lloyd asks him how he deals with the burden of grief, hearing so many people’s suffering. Mr. Rogers says it’s not a burden. But then he also says that sometimes he bangs the low end of the piano. 

In my work I am surrounded by heroes — some who give their life’s work to preserving the environment for future generations, others who listen to, advocate for, and directly elevate the vitally important voices of people who are not being heard, and still others who create new solutions that make our footprints smaller and softer on the earth. We have grief – lots of it. Especially right now. As simple as it is, part of being sustainable is to find a place to express our grief. Darkness is beautiful too. It’s where we find what we care most about. Loving people, loving life fully includes being heartbroken. We need to bang on the piano at the low end every once in while. Hopefully, then, we can return to gratitude and kindness. 

Love really is the answer. Letting in love, expressing our grief and practicing kindness. That’s where sustainability begins.

As Prince puts it, “…sprinkling in a healthy and repeated large sum of love and kindness can go a long way.  It does not mean we stop challenging and cajoling arbiters of hate, racial bias, misogyny, homophobia, and discrimination. It means there is a place for love even in our most difficult work.” Yes, yes. That’s exactly it.

On December 17th we will host a meeting for the community to join us in creating Austin’s 50th Earth Day Anniversary event together. Please join us.


So let’s make the most of this beautiful day,

Since we’re together, we might as well say,

Would you be mine? Could you be mine?

Won’t you be my neighbor?

Won’t you please, won’ t you please,

Please won’t you be my neighbor?


Please note – editorials and sponsored posts are written by guest writers to inform and educate the community on a variety of different viewpoints, as well as to share information about local eco-friendly businesses and organizations. However, they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Austin EcoNetwork.

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