- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2002

Staff writer Denise Barnes interviewed Rudolph Harris, vice president of the Mu Lambda Chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and founder of the Beautillion program.

Question: What is a "beautillion"?
Answer: A beautillion is a rite of passage in which young men move from one stage of their lives to another. And it is where they come together and share ideas and learn certain things about life. It all comes together when they are presented to the public and we tell the public about their achievements. Girls have always had debutante balls and men have had rights of passage in certain circles. In the Jewish religion, they have bar mitzvahs. The beautillion signals a young man's coming of age.
Q: What are the benefits for young men who participate in the Mu Lambda Beautillion program?
A: Well, I thought it would be wonderful to have a program that offers young men a variety of workshops and at the same time allows them an opportunity to come in contact with fraternity members.
This way, they have someone else to talk to in addition to their family members, and fraternity members can serve as mentors to the young men. Oftentimes, young men who play sports receive all of the recognition, but there's a bevy of black males who don't get those types of accolades and they, too, are deserving. The beautillion program is really a take-off on the debutante balls, where young ladies are exposed to different workshops and seminars culminating with a cotillion.
Another aspect of the program is that we award scholarships to the young men who participate in the program. We explain it all when the program begins so that they know what the potential may be.
Q: How does the chapter get the word out to young men and parents who might want to participate in the program?
A: In our first year, we sent out letters to both public and parochial high schools and churches in the metropolitan area. That year, we had 10 high school seniors who completed the program and were introduced to Washington society. We usually begin mailing letters out to the schools in late August or September. It's a six-month program, and in late April or early May, we host the annual Beautillion Extravaganza.
At our first session the young men attend, which usually takes place in December, we invite their parents and fraternity members. Fraternity members talk a bit about themselves and what they're doing and the potential beaus get an opportunity to tell us about themselves and their goals for the future.
The young men have input about some of the activities they would like to participate in during our first meeting and we pair them with mentors at that time. They also learn about what the program entails and what is expected of them.
We hold meetings every two to three weeks. Each class, however, must participate in a service project as a group. This year, the seniors worked at an area soup kitchen.
Projects change from year to year, and this is a way, they can come together and bond. The purpose of the service project is for them to unify and think as a team. They are helping one another and they are responsible to each other. The point we're trying to impress upon them is that you are your brother's keeper and no man is an island unto himself.
Q: What types of workshops do the young men attend?
A: Well, for example, we host workshops on how to apply for college scholarships, how to properly fill out college applications, and how to write biographical essays by listing one's accomplishments and memberships.
The group visits different government agencies both federal and local to learn about how the various agencies function. Council member Vincent Orange's son was a beau in this year's class. Council member Orange joined us at the School of Engineering at Howard [University] and talked about District politics and how the D.C. Council operates.
The young men also visit the Smithsonian Institution and take a tour that has some relevance to African Americans, and then we talk about African-American culture.
Q: Are beautillions popular with this generation?
A: We lost some young men this year because they didn't think they wanted to waltz with their mothers. There were a couple of fellows who just didn't think it was cool. But I've had parents tell me they want their sons involved in the program for various reasons.
The young men have mixed feelings today about participating in programs like this one. However, I've heard that many of them form close relationships. In this year's class, we had a number of Eagle Scouts and they shared a lot in common. They had participated in scouting programs and some formed strong bonds in terms of friendships.
When the Beautillion program first started, some questioned whether they wanted to do it. But when they started to practice the dancing and we always have food they bonded.
Of course, a great portion of time is devoted to preparing for the Beautillion Extravaganza. In early March, the young men begin weekly dance rehearsals, which tend to be fun for the group. Adrian Vincent James, a dancer and choreographer, who has been with us since inception of the Beautillion, teaches the mothers and sons the waltzes.
Each year, the young men and their dates select a different dance this year, they did the tango. It takes time to learn the dances, but it's fun. Once again, it gives the young men and brotherhood a chance to interact during the dance rehearsals.
Q: What are the requirements for acceptance into the Beautillion program?
A: We try to interest people who share some things in common. We have not yet developed a profile; however, they tend to be college-bound students, and they tend to be students who are trying to succeed.
In fact, one of the discussions we had when we first started focused on this topic. Members wanted to ensure that it was not an elitist group. Some of the brothers were very concerned, yet we wanted people who were compatible, but we never wanted to exclude anyone from participating if they expressed an interest.
Even if some of the students could not afford it, the brothers would help them so that they could join the program. And as I said, we have young men from all over the area who attend both public and parochial schools. Guidance counselors at different schools have called us to recommend seniors to participate in the program.
Q: How was the Beautillion Extravaganza on May 10?
A: I thought it went extremely well. The event was held at the Georgetown Conference Center in Northwest. Marc Fitzgerald, the chairman of this year's Beautillion, served as master of ceremonies along with Tameka Harper. Mr. Fitzgerald organized all of the activities and secured all of the venues. He played a crucial role in organizing this event.
Of course, the beaus had lots of family and friends who attended. Even grandparents came out for the evening, and that made for a wonderful affair. I understand one of the guests said she can't wait to get an opportunity to dance with her son when he becomes a beau that's something she is looking forward to.
It was a lovely evening we had 12 young men who successfully completed the program.
This year's winner was Willliam Clyde Lindsey Thomas, who will graduate from Wilson High School in June. He is the son of William Thomas and Mercedes Lindsey Thomas.
Our first runner-up was Brian Peterson Barton, who will graduate from Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville. He is the son of Shirley Peterson Barton and Robert Barton. Both of the young men will receive scholarships.

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