Jeneé Osterheldt

KC illustrator shows kids that black history is more than 28 days

Shane Evans has illustrated more than 20 books and is working on “Mixed Me” with his best friend, actor Taye Diggs.
Shane Evans has illustrated more than 20 books and is working on “Mixed Me” with his best friend, actor Taye Diggs. The Kansas City Star

“Which month has 28 days?”

Kansas City artist Shane Evans poses the question recently to a group of Pembroke Hill fifth-graders. Almost instantly, they all say February. But there’s one voice that says “all of them.” That is the voice Shane relies on to be the light, to illuminate the fact that black history cannot be confined to just one month.

Shane, a celebrated children’s book illustrator, collaborated with Charles R. Smith Jr. on the new “28 Days,” highlighting iconic moments in black history — from Bessie Coleman becoming the first black female pilot to Barack Obama becoming our first black president. On Saturday, he will speak about the book to families at Barnes & Noble in Zona Rosa.

Shane got the book idea when he was celebrating black history on social media with the help of Olu, one of his signature characters. Every February, the little brown boy with the Superman curl in his Afro becomes the face of black history, teaching children about Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou, Malcolm X and the like. Shane wanted to do something beyond Olu to keep the conversation going.

“The reality of black history is it is not contained in just one window of time,” he says. “It is not just to be studied the month of February. Black history is all encompassing. Every month has 28 days. It’s up to each individual to learn the history, and it’s about how we are teaching the children.”

“28 Days” is designed to start those conversations with children and help them look beyond the same names they hear in school. He hopes it is the first in a series.

Shane, a three time NAACP Image Award nominee, roots his books in diversity:

“Underground: Finding the Light to Freedom,” which he wrote and illustrated, explains the Underground Railroad and won the 2012 Coretta Scott King Book Award.

In 2011 he created “Chocolate Me” with his best friend, actor Taye Diggs. It’s the story of kids teasing Taye as a child for his beautiful dark skin.

The book is so popular that they are working on a sequel, “Mixed Me,” set for release this fall. On Facebook, multiracial families are sharing their pictures and stories in anticipation of the book. “Mixed Me” is about Shane growing up biracial.

“This is my personal story,” he says. “America says my parents are black and white. But to me, my mother is my mother and my father is my father. No matter what your skin looks like, having two different parents brings in two different perspectives and a mix.”

His passion, he says, is using creativity to show blacks in a positive light. Everything he does is about building bridges between communities.

Even the wall he painted blue and covered in stars, just outside of his Hyde Park studio, Dream, has become a popular destination. People from all over the metro who may not usually roam over to 31st Street use the wall as a backdrop and hashtag it #thatkcstarwall on Instagram and Twitter.

“I welcome everyone,” Shane says. “My work is for everyone. These aren’t just my words or my pictures. I am navigating through life just like anyone else, with rises and falls. I am just doing my best to color it a little bit differently. These aren’t just my stories. It’s everybody’s story.”

To reach Jeneé Osterheldt, call 816-234-4380 or send email to josterheldt@kcstar.com. “Like” her page on Facebook and never miss a column. On Twitter @jeneeinkc.

MEET THE AUTHOR

Illustrator Shane Evans will speak about “28 Days” and sign copies at 1 p.m. Saturday at Barnes & Noble in Zona Rosa, 8625 N.W. Prairie View Road. For more on Shane, visit shaneevans.com.

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