The number 143 held great significance for Mister Rogers, the cardigan-clad guardian of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Not only was it the weight television personality Fred Rogers maintained for most of his adult life, but it was also shorthand for one of his favorite phrases: “I love you.” (The first figure represents the single letter in “I,” the second the four letters in “love,” and the third the three letters in “you.”)
It’s fitting, then, that yesterday Rogers’ home state of Pennsylvania commemorated the beloved entertainer by hosting the first annual day of kindness.
Officially dubbed 1-4-3 Day, the May 23 holiday—which hits on the 143rd day of the year—encourages residents to “embrace the spirit of the kindest Pennsylvanian, Fred Rogers,” by doing something kind for their neighbors. In true modern-day form, the Pennsylvania government’s Twitter announcement also asked locals to “spread the love and share your acts of kindness using the hashtag #143DayInPA.”
As of Friday, the 1-4-3 Day website had recorded 16,397 social media posts featuring the hashtag. Among others, acts of kindness detailed online included dog wardens using their lunch hour to walk and play with shelter animals, elementary school students raising money for a classmate in need of a wheelchair, and co-workers volunteering at a local women’s shelter. Many social media users also used the opportunity to reflect on Rogers’ legacy specifically; one fan even tattooed the number 143 onto her ankle.
“Live Like Fred,” a campaign launched in 2008, handing out stuffed teddy bears at Pittsburgh’s Beechwood Elementary School. According to TribLive’s Jacob Tierney, the so-called “kindness bears” are used in kindergarten classes to teach children how to care for others.
“We all want to make sure Mister Rogers’ legacy can live on through future generations,” says Colton DeBiase, a college student who started the initiative with his mother, Melissa, and friend Tiffany Schmoyer.
For those looking for new ways to connect with their neighbors, the event’s organizers provided an online “kindness generator” with seemingly endless ideas: Sweep a neighbor’s walkway, for example, or buy some friends a round of drinks. Alternatively, donate a book to the library, volunteer at a nursing home, buy treats for a neighbor’s dog, cook breakfast for a loved one or donate clothes to a thrift store.
Earlier this month, Carrie Fischer Lepore, Pennsylvania’s deputy secretary of marketing, tourism, and film, told the Philly Inquirer’s Anna Orso that the statewide day of kindness aims to be an antidote to “all the negativity that we surround ourselves with,” and, instead, focus for a day on doing what Mr. Rogers did, “inspir[ing] kindness and gratitude and love for our neighbors.”
Rogers, born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, in 1928, is best known as the host of the popular children’s television show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Over an impressive 31-season run, Rogers educated viewers on a diverse array of issues: In one episode, he toured a crayon factory, while in another, he explored how macaroni is made. But he didn’t shy away from harder-hitting topics, as well, such as a segment discussing how to deal with the deaths of loved ones.
Above all, the TV personality strived to emphasize the importance of kindness and compassion toward others. As he once said, “Imagine what our real neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person.”