March 07, 2009
Rollins held a two-day “Good Neighbor Conference” that paid homage to the values held by Fred Rogers. Rogers graduated from Rollins in 1951 and is the College’s most famous alumnus. Known for creating and producing Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Rogers spent his life helping people appreciate what it means to be a caring neighbor.
A public lecture and numerous workshops explored the ideals of Rogers' life work and how to continue those values in today's ever-changing, multicultural society. The conference was presented by the Rollins College Child Development & Student Research Center. This is the second year Rollins has held this conference.
This year's theme “Being a Good Neighbor in Today’s Multicultural Society” encouraged participants to ask the question, “What would Fred do?” and explore what it means to be a good neighbor.
Celebrated children’s book illustrator James Ransome kicked off Rollins College's Second Annual Good Neighbor Conference February 20 with a public lecture demonstrating his artistic, neighborly spirit. From humble beginnings in a town with only three traffic lights, Ransome began his career copying images from comic books at the local pharmacy. Through the help of mentors, he cultivated his hobby and later found himself majoring in Illustration at New York's Pratt Institute.
His early career focused on athletic images. Ransome never imagined he would find himself illustrating children’s books. “Of course I wouldn’t make a living off children’s books,” recalled Ransome. “I thought I would just do them every so often in between my sports images, so I included a few illustrations in my portfolio, and then I got my first book Do Like Kyla.” Surprisingly, Ransome enjoyed the work and found himself illustrating more and more books, including Red Dancing Shoes, How Many Stars in the Sky, and his first award-winning piece The Creation.
Ransome brought the evening’s participants into his life and his studio pausing only to joke about his impressive library of reference books. “Most people would be amazed at how many books I look at to do one book. I have books on every subject you could think of,” he said. “My kids will be working on a project for school and they are always surprised when I say ‘Oh yeah, I have a book on that!’”
Currently, Ransome teaches illustration at Syracuse University, where he enjoys mentoring and motivating students to follow their dreams. “My grandmother was always afraid for me because she didn’t think I could make a life being a black illustrator,” Ransome said. “I was scared too, but I found mentors who showed me that it could be done and who helped me make it. Now, I meet janitors at elementary schools who tell me that they loved to draw, but gave it up and they wish they hadn’t. I feel like I can give back by telling them my story.”
Ransome’s motivational messages complimented this year’s conference theme, “Being a Good Neighbor in Today’s Multicultural Society.” A theme Joanne Rogers, a Rollins trustee and graduate and wife of legendary television star Fred Rogers, found to be particularly important. “It is a very timely event because our society is changing, especially with Barack Obama as our new President,” said Rogers, who attended Ransome’s lecture.
On February 21, 76 participants gathered for workshops taught by Rollins professors, community leaders and educators. Workshops included “Cultures and Customs of Faith in America,” “The Melting Pot Meltdown: Exploring the Dynamisms of Cultural Gumbo,” “Teaching Tolerance,” “Don’t Laugh at Me,” “Be the Change” and “Do You Know Your Neighbors?”
In a workshop about multicultural communication, students participating in the Upward Bound Program at Rollins shared their differences in an effort to learn about one another. Facilitator Mahjabeen Rafiuddin, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs at Rollins College, introduced the exercises in personal exploration as “an opportunity to learn who you are, an opportunity to learn about me through you, and an opportunity for you to learn about each other.”
A variety of community organizations including Central Florida Jobs With Justice, Ten Thousand Villages, Destiny Foundation of Central Florida, Winter Park Neighborhood Center for Families, Islamic Center of Central Florida and the Farm Workers Association among others were on hand with resources, information and items for sale.
To celebrate the legacy of Fred Rogers and to promote the “Good Neighbor Conference,” Rollins also collected sweaters that will be donated to the Orlando Rescue Mission. Plans are underway for the third annual Good Neighbor Conference in spring 2010.