By Taye Diggs
“What are you?”
“What are you? Preppy, er…What’s your style?”
“Uh, I don’t know, man…I’m just me.”
Those were the words exchanged when I first met Shane W. Evans. It was the beginning of our sophomore year at School of the Arts in Rochester, New York. We were both transfers and hadn’t really gotten to know anybody yet. We became fast friends.
“I’m just me.” Shane has continued to live by those words, and “who he is” continues to impress me.
Renaissance man. A true artist, in every sense of the word. Illustrator, painter, sculptor, photographer, singer, songwriter, musician, composer…the list goes on. He’s the type of cat who just randomly picks up a guitar, and next thing you know, he’s teaching you how to play. In high school, he had never sung in front of people in his life. He auditioned for the school musical…and got the lead.
His hunger for life — learning new things and creating new experiences — has always inspired me. He can meet a stranger in an airport and end up being invited to the person’s wedding. It’s pretty remarkable. In this day and age when people are so wrapped up in their personal devices they don’t even have time to exchange niceties, Shane is always willing to make a connection. He succeeds.
I wish I knew the number of people Shane touches with his spirit and art, whether it’s through the numerous books he’s illustrated and written or the work he continues to do in Africa. His project Africa Dream has taken him to Lesotho, where he has worked with HIV positive children; to Mali, for the program Medical Missions; and to Uganda, where, in conjunction with an organization called Change the Truth, he worked with an orphanage of 150 children developing creativity through poetry, music, and art. He’s always looking to make that “connection.”
I’ve known Shane for almost thirty years. He is my best friend. He was the best man at my wedding. He is “Uncle Shane” to my son. I refer to him most times as “my cousin.” I often forget that we’re not actually related by blood. But we are related.
He is one of the most selfless, kind, even-keeled, and talented people I know. We worked on my first children’s book, Chocolate Me!, together. The book expresses the feelings of my five-year-old self and what it took to recognize the “sweet inside.” It was a piece that we began in college and one that stayed with us. Shane saw an opportunity to bring the story to life as an illustrator. It was a great joy to work with Shane and see the artistic style I’ve known since I was a teenager bring my story to life.
We will continue to discover ourselves and open doors to new adventures. I am honored to have him by my side in this world and look forward to having him by my side in the next.
Taye Diggs is the author of Chocolate Me! (Feiwel), illustrated by Shane W. Evans. He is an actor whose credits include film (How Stella Got Her Groove Back; Chicago), stage (Rent; Wicked), and television (Private Practice). From the July/August 2012 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.