ANGOLA — Art, illusion, dancing and real-life drama brought the Brokaw Movie House to life Thursday night.

Steuben County Antibully Coalition’s second community project — the Fearless Freak Art Show — featured local artists and speakers Emily Boller and Annie Streit.

“You learn so much about yourself from disappointment and struggle,” said Streit, a children’s book author who told her story of going from being an athletic Ball State graduate to living in a wheelchair with very limited physical mobility. Boller, an artist who has also published a book, shared a life buoyed by a healthy diet and weight loss.

The premise behind the Fearless Freak Art Show was to celebrate and embrace individuality — to accept people for who they are and let them boundlessly express themselves.

Some area high schoolers showed up in cosplay attire, Gypsy Muse bellydance troupe opened the event with colorful dance and Maria Davis wowed the crowd to cap the night with a Jedi performance with a light sabre.

In a segue between speakers, Anna Wilson’s poignant YouTube “The Darkness” was played on the big screen then Wilson personally spoke, sharing her experience with postpartum depression. She encouraged people to support and show compassion to new mothers.

Art on display included pieces by Erin Coatney-Buch, Genna Davis, Lynne Liechty, Mike Mosier and Ed Wilson.

Cahoots Coffee Cafe provided hot chocolate and coffee outside the theater for those participating in a Blue Hat walk prior to the performances. The handmade blue hats for Hat Not Hate are part of a national effort to increase awareness of the impact bullying has on children, teens and adults.

Streit’s third children’s book, “Rough and Tough T-Bone,” touches on bullying in a way that also shows compassion to the bully. Understanding and accepting one another is one of the keys to ending bullying behavior.

Streit didn’t change when she had her accident 14 1/2 years ago, but her circumstances did. She thanked family and friends that have always stood by her side.

She shared a favorite quote: “Nevertheless, she persisted.”

“Giving up is no longer an option,” Streit said. When she was a young student, Streit envisioned her life with the perfect husband, two incredibly intelligent children, a couple of dogs and a home on a lake.

While possibly not the idyllic image from her childhood, Streit noted that she does live on a beautiful Steuben County lake with two dogs. And, if things had been perfect, she said she may not have felt as fulfilled as she does now sharing her journey with others.

Boller’s journey started with an eating disorder. Thursday night, she showed a picture of her late son when he won a national Scholastic Art award and traveled to New York. During that summer trip, Boller said due to her weight and poor health, she had to sit in an air-conditioned ice cream shop while her teenage son wandered New York City alone.

A Fort Wayne resident, Boller was encouraged by her artist friend Audrey Riley and chose to use food as “medium” for an ongoing art project. She took pictures of heavy self and used data graphs that showed numbers like blood pressure and cholesterol dropping as her health improved.

By month 10, she not only could jog, but she wanted to jog. She wanted to ride bicycles and enjoy the abilities of her freed body.

“I was eating a lot of food,” Boller attested. What she was eating was raw fruits and vegetables, cutting out processed foods and sweets.

Her efforts were recognized by Dr. Joel Fuhrman as well as other national health advocates. She wrote a book, “Starved to Obesity.”

“I never make the same salad twice,” Boller said enthusiastically, pictures of plates filled with the greens, reds, purples and oranges of nature’s foods flashing across the Brokaw screen.

Boller has met people who say their cancer, lupus, diabetes and other critical health issues were cured by eating a nutrient-dense plant based diet. She said she does not get colds or the flu.

“I’ll have a lot more years to paint,” she said, smiling.

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