Beautillion program marking 40 years of uplifting young black men

Beautillion participant Andre Anderson, pictured at home in west Wichita on Wednesday, plans to major in accounting at Wichita State, then go on to law school. (March 25, 2015)
Beautillion participant Andre Anderson, pictured at home in west Wichita on Wednesday, plans to major in accounting at Wichita State, then go on to law school. (March 25, 2015) The Wichita Eagle

Kevass Harding might have turned out just fine without the Beautillion program. After all, he was already a top high school football player carrying a 3.0 grade point average when he was recruited into it.

But Harding, part of the 1986 Beautillion class, said the experience helped him in college and beyond. A former police officer with a doctorate degree, Harding today is minister of Dellrose United Methodist Church; an entrepreneur; and a community leader.

“What I really got out of it was leadership, accountability and responsibility,” Harding said. “If they said to be somewhere, you had to be there. That was part of being a leader in the future. Mean what you say and say what you mean.”

Saturday’s Beautillion at Century II marks the 40th year for the program, which is sponsored by the Wichita chapter of Links Inc., a national nonprofit organization for African-American women.

Nineteen male high school seniors will be presented to the crowd along with their parents and dates. The event is the culmination of six months of activities and workshops for the young men, who also use the time to raise money for college. Each participant is known as a “Beau” or, if his mother is a member of Links, a “Heir-O.” The participant who raises the most money for college is named “Mr. Beautillion,” while other awards are given for academics, artistic talent and other achievements.

Northwest High senior Andre Anderson, one of this year’s Beaux, said he was sitting in class when he got a letter from his guidance counselor inviting him to participate. Anderson said he talked it over with his mother, who encouraged him to do it.

“It more tradition than just money,” Anderson said.

Anderson’s father helped him put together a Facebook page for his Beautillion campaign, where he thanks donors.

Anderson, 18, is a cellist in the school orchestra, a football letterman and member of the tennis team who’s in the top third of his class academically and volunteers in the community. He’s enjoyed many of the Beautillion activities, especially a spring break trip to Wiley College, a historically black school in Texas.

“We were together like three days,” he said. “If you really take it head on, you can really pull out a lot of friendships.”

He thinks the experience will help him “become more of a man to help society. Just like later in life, you’re going to have to work with people you don’t know. We all have to find a common goal.”

Anderson plans to major in accounting at Wichita State, then go on to law school.

Anderson’s Facebook page shows some of his other interests as well. There are photos of him with football teammates, his date to Beautillion and Sen. Pat Roberts. Anderson’s long-term plan is to go into politics. Indeed, he’d like to become president.

“Correct,” he said. “Honestly, it’s because I hope I can make it like a utopia for everybody. Basically, I believe America hasn’t hit its peak yet.”

That kind of ambition is just what Annie Montgomery likes to hear. President of the local Links chapter, she is the former director of the city’s Civil Rights Office and today assists her husband, Lincoln, in ministering at Tabernacle Bible Church.

Montgomery said the program was started “because of our concern for the future, the survival of our young black men. I mean it’s obvious today as it has been in the past that they are at risk, so we just took it upon ourselves as a national organization, and local chapter, to reach out to our young men.”

Links also works with young African-American woman and younger boys, the latter of whom will take part in Saturday’s event as well. Montgomery said the Beaux “work so hard. They sell dinners, they do car washes, they do whatever it takes to raise money.” The program also helps participants identify and pursue scholarships, she said.

Montgomery said she knows “there are some young men who think it’s square, it’s not cool, it’s not hip to be involved in the Beautillion. But we have to get out there and convince them that this is worthwhile.” She even had to push her own son, Jareau, to participate.

“He saw the light,” she said of her son, who went on to earn his MBA and now works for Westar.

Montgomery expects a lot of former Beaux to return for the 40th anniversary. Harding, whose wife, Teketa, is chair of Saturday’s event, will be there. He looks back fondly on his experience as a Beau, including learning table etiquette from Links.

“To this day,” he said, “I still know my left hand is for bread and my right is for the drink.”

If you go

Beautillion 2015

Where: Century II Concert Hall, 225 W. Douglas

When: 6 p.m. Saturday

Admission: $15 for adults, $8 for children