Francois Clemmons was born in Birmingham and was raised in the 50s and 60s in Youngstown, Ohio. He grew up singing in the church choir and got music degrees from Oberlin and Carnegie Mellon.
In 1968, Fred Rodgers invited him to play the part of Officer Clemmons, the friendly neighborhood police officer, on “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” on PBS. But Francois had been raised in a ghetto where they didn’t have a high opinion of the police. Francois knew that Fred was taking a risk in casting a black actor as a police officer. Fred convinced him to take the part, making him the first African American to have a recurring role on children’s TV.
The most memorable scene between Mr. Rogers and Officer Clemmons was broadcast in 1969. Mr. Rogers was resting his bare feet in a kid’s swimming pool on a hot day. He invited Officer Clemmons to rest his feet in the water with him.
Francois later said, “The icon Fred Rogers was not only showing my brown skin in the tub with his white skin as two friends, but as I got out of that tub, he helped me dry my feet.”
Fred ended every program by hanging up his sweater and saying, “You make every day a special day just by being you, and I like you just the way you are.” But that day, Fred looked right at Francois when he said it.
He asked him, “Fred, were you talking to me?” Fred said, “I’ve been talking to you all along.”
This Sunday, Patrick Myers, the Executive Director of Ligonier Camp and Conference Center, the amazing Christian adventure camp our church owns, will be preaching from Luke 10 on the parable of the Good Samaritan. The camp’s theme this summer is “Agents of Change.”
Fred Rogers was a Presbyterian minister. He never pastored a church, but his understanding of what it means to be a neighbor came out of his relationship with Jesus Christ.
We need the one who came from heaven to earth, to not only risk his life, but to give his life, freely, gladly.
When we grasp the radical, self-giving love of the Great Samaritan Jesus Christ, we can begin to be agents of change.