We sit on the floor in a circle, cross-legged and wide-eyed like a bunch of preschoolers.
By JENEÉ OSTERHELDT
The Kansas City Star
But everyone in the room at the Just Off Broadway theater is an adult, except for a handful of 15-year-olds. The generations span 50 years. Were strangers, brought together by Kansas City artist Shane Evans. The award-winning illustrator has always wanted to nurture community through his art, and Chocolate Me, his book with longtime best friend and actor Taye Diggs, is his vehicle.
The two met as high school sophomores in Upstate New York, and later went to Syracuse University together. The book is based on Diggs childhood. He was teased by other kids because of his radiant dark skin. He and Shane wanted to nurture self-esteem and an inclusive attitude. From that, something even bigger has happened.
While it may seem the book was meant for little brown kids, the message is universal love your chocolate self. In the two years since the books release, the friends have been touring and participating in childrens camps. Shane will host two events this weekend at the Plaza library and the Nelson Atkins-Museum.
Adults and kids are drawn to the book. The fans are all ages, all ethnicities. They want to share their stories and talk solutions.
It takes parents teaching kids to embrace themselves and appreciate others to create change, Shane says. A lot of adults are searching for that understanding themselves. I think thats why this book brings them out and creates a dialogue that goes beyond the story.
Thats what led to the Chocolate Me Workshop. Shane knew he wanted to do more, specifically in Kansas City, where he lives and creates much of his art. So he put a call out to local artists, thinkers and dreamers to join him. He asked that they bring something thats special to them, and an open mind. And on a Saturday afternoon, we came together as strangers and left as family. All it took was a little chocolate.
Describe your chocolate flavor, he challenged the circle. One of the participants admitted that he was inclined to say hes vanilla chocolate, simply because hes white. But in his heart, he knows he is milk chocolate. Milk chocolate, he said, blends with all kinds of flavors. Thats a quality he likes to embody.
As we went around, people were all kinds of flavors: lime chocolate, smoky chocolate, spicy chocolate and then some. We all had our reasons and as we shared you got insight into personalities. I chose peanut butter chocolate, because I like the way it brings things together.
The woman next to me, Melanie Werner, said she was a whole bowl of chocolates. Having something for everybody is important to her. Shes never read Chocolate Me. Going to the workshop came from a gut feeling.
It was a complete leap of faith, says Melanie, 36, of Harrisonville. I just had this knowing feeling that I must go. So I did. I learned that there are many people in this world who are full of love and have a deep desire to spread that love to all they encounter. My chocolate thought for that day and every day is love and compassion will save us all.
Shane taught us a song, Chocolate Me, in which we sang kids-chorus style. I love the sweet inside, we harmonized. We danced and even broke out into random hugs. That day, we shared secrets and formed bonds. All it took was a willingness to talk to new people.
Thats what the workshop is about, Shane says. We have to get beyond the cool, dig deeper than anger and walls and find the sweet inside of us all. He wants to continue to host events year round.
I think we are at a place inside of humanity where we are being bombarded by negative imagery, Shane says. We are divided. When there is a call to be real and to come together, you see exposures of love. Its a call to peoples hearts, and when you get all of these different hearts in the room, you gain perspective and healing.
Chocolate Me has grown from the pages of a book to a movement. Give a chocolate, take a chocolate and the sweetness will grow.