Actor Taye Diggs Backs Picture Books as Effective Learning Tool

Actor Scott Leo “Taye” Diggs and illustrator Shane W. Evans said that parents and educators can use picture books to help young children come to terms with their racial backgrounds during an event at the Harvard Graduate School of Education on Thursday.

Diggs and Evans collaborated on the picture book “Chocolate Me!,” which was published last year. The book depicts the experience of a young black boy grappling with his physical differences from his white friends.

Diggs, a stage and screen performer known for roles in productions like “Rent” and “Chicago,” said that he was a victim of bullying as a black child living in a primarily white community. He said the plot of the book was inspired by the advice his mother gave him at the age of five—to embrace his appearance.

Diggs said his father only used the word “chocolate” to refer to black people. As a child, it was difficult for him to make sense of this terminology. “It would have been nice to have books to help me out,” he said.

Diggs and Evans said they have come to see that food terminology can be a positive means of explaining race to children.

“Chocolate is sweet and yummy and delicious,” Diggs said.

Evans said the process of publishing this book has led him to embrace this view of skin color. “I refer to people as flavors now actually because of this book,” Evans said.

Evans asked moderator Pamela Mason, a lecturer at the Ed School, what flavor she was. Mason responded, “I am mocha spice.”

Diggs and Evans said that they are unfazed by criticism they have received for simplifying race to ice cream flavors.

“One thing you can count on is the motherfuckers trying to bring you down,” Diggs said.

Diggs and Evans have been friends since their sophomore year of high school, when they met at the School of the Arts in Rochester, New York.

Diggs said that the text of the book was a poem that he originally composed while studying at Syracuse University, where Evans also attended.

The two said they hope to work on more books together. Diggs said that he would like to collaborate with Evans on a book that focuses on biracial children. Both have children from biracial marriages.

Those in attendance said they were excited that the book allowed children to enter into the discussion of race.

Adero-Zaire R. Green attended the event with her preschool-aged daughter Summer.

“Today’s lecture really solidified a lot of the questions I have as a parent,” she said.

Green said she considered the book an effective tool for discussing race. “It opened up a lot of doors,” she said.

Dorice Moise, a graduate of the Ed School, said she was excited to see a black child as the protagonist of a children’s book.

“Just walking into a library, how many books are you going to see with a black child on the cover?” Moise said. “I’m gonna read it to my child.”

—Staff writer Elizabeth S. Auritt can be reached at eauritt@college.harvard.edu.

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