Beautillion Ball: Building leaders, self-esteem

ajjohnson@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 15, 2013 

As a teen, Travis Chambers learned social skills that helped transform him into a community leader. He said much of the training came when he was a beau in the Biennial Beautillion Ball organized by the local chapter of Jack and Jill of America Inc.

Chambers was a junior at Kendrick High when he entered the program that taught him how to dress for success, maintain a positive attitude and communicate effectively. He also learned how to set a table and which fork to use while eating certain dishes.

“It prepared me so when I went to college, I was able to be a leader at Albany State University,” said Chambers, who completed the program in 1988. “It allowed me to have self-esteem and built the foundation that allowed me to be a gentleman and a young man prepared for society.”

Now, Chambers is a 42-year-old local businessman who owns a real estate company. He sits on the Planning Advisory Commission and has run for public office. As the married father of three boys, he remains active in Jack and Jill programs. His son, Travis Chambers Jr., even participated in the beautillion a few years ago and was named Mr. Jack and Jill. He’s now a junior at Albany State.

Chambers and his family aren’t the only ones benefiting from the program. Jack and Jill will host its 18th Biennial Beautillion Ball on Dec. 21, drawing 22 young beaux to the Columbus Convention & Trade Center. They will be decked in long-tail tuxedos, gloves and top hats. Each beau will walk with a cane in one hand, and a belle on the other. They will do the Waltz and practice everything they learned in etiquette classes.

The theme this year is Setting Yourself Apart: Scholarship, Leadership and Service.

“It’s a really lovely night, really lovely,” said Kornisha Brown, president of the local Jack and Jill chapter. “And everyone has to have a tissue because it can be a little emotional, especially when the moms see their sons walk up and present themselves that way.”

The beautillion, which focuses on the development of young men, alternates years with a local debutante for young women, which is organized by the Orchettes Civic and Social Club. Both programs aim to give black teens the skills they need to be successful in society.

Larraine Smith, the Orchettes’ debutante chairwoman, said the organization’s next ball will be held in December 2014. Over the years, it has attracted 25-60 girls.

“The purpose is to highlight young women in the community and give them an opportunity to display their accomplishments and achievements,” she said. “We present them to society as they transition from young girls to young women.”

Brown said Jack and Jill is a national organization that has been in the Columbus community since 1966. It focuses on providing children with constructive educational, cultural, civic and recreational experiences. In 1979, Juanita Booker, a member of Jack and Jill, brought the Beautillion Ball to Columbus.

“It started with 30 young men from the Tri-City area and those individuals have gone on to be quite successful in many areas in, not just our local community, but also the state and national arena,” Brown said. “We just want to continue that legacy that Mrs. Booker and other chapter members started years ago.”

She said the organization selects “the best of the best” students to participate, those who represent the community positively in terms of academics and leadership ability. The group includes honor students, athletes, musicians and young men who are active in their schools and community. Brown said other former beaux include Chris Lindsey, the principal of Carver High; Reginald Griffin, the principal of Spencer High; and the Rev. Brandon Isome, pastor of Nazareth Baptist Church.

“In the beautillion what we try to do is promote high self-esteem and standards, strong morals and values and continuous education and refined social skills,” Brown said.

Under the leadership of Michelle Nelson-Hawkins, this year’s Beautillion Ball chairwoman, the group participated in a Habitat Build community service project last week. Each beau also raises money for a local charity of their choice and the Jack and Jill of America Foundation. Brown said the fundraiser results in thousands of dollars donated to local nonprofits each year. The beaux also have to attend educational and leadership seminars.

Brown said the program gets about 30 applications a year and dispels many of the negative stereotypes perpetuated in society about young black men.

“We certainly feel that it is important to be able to highlight the positive things our young African-American men are doing in the community,” she said. “A lot of times we hear about the negative, but we don’t hear about the positive and this is our way of showing that there are some bright and highly intelligent, young African-American leaders in our community.”

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