Last month, Every Block a Village Christian Fellowship Church, 4926 W. Chicago Ave., was transformed into a banquet hall for a community beautillion sponsored by 50 Men of Austin. The May 23 event was the first time the organization, which was founded in 2014 with the blessings of the Westside Health Authority (WHA), put on the event — essentially the equivalent of a cotillion, or formal social, for young men.
It was also the first time Kyle Richardson, 13, wore a tuxedo.
“This is my first time in a tuxedo — not a suit,” said Richardson, a student at Chicago Jesuit Academy. “But the suit is normal. I have to wear it at my school.”
Richardson, along with four other young men and three young women around the same age, were groomed for several weeks in the run-up to the event, when they learned the ins and outs of chivalry and courtesies that are perhaps much less common now, but by no means extinct.
“My momma signed me up for this,” Richardson said. “I wasn’t supposed to come, but my cousin told her about it. At first I was mad and didn’t want to come, but I’m not so mad anymore.”
Richardson, who aspires to be a professional wrestler or NFL superstar when he grows up, said participating in the beautillion helped him focus on his studies a little more.
“I usually get C’s or B’s,” he said. “This helped me a little bit. Once, my mom told me to finish my homework and I hadn’t done it. She said if I didn’t finish it, I wasn’t coming to [beautillion rehearsal].”
Percy Giles, the former 37th Ward alderman, helped found 50 Men of Austin, the organization responsible for putting the event on. Giles said the young men all signed up to be dukes at the social. He said they didn’t turn anyone down who expressed interest. The event, he said, is patterned after the well-known Alpha Phi Alpha beautillion.
It’s only the latest manifestation of 50 Men’s outreach efforts, Giles said.
“We established 50 Men of Austin after we started looking for 50 men willing to make a significant sacrifice of their time and resources to do some positive things in the community,” Giles said.
“Last summer we sponsored a softball team at La Follette Park where we teamed up with teams in Humboldt Park,” he said. “[For the beautillion], we decided to do something to improve the perception of young men in Austin. This is the first one, we hope, of many.”
The event seems to have worked its magic on Richardson. When his mom threatened to pull him from beautillion practice if he didn’t finish his homework, how did the 13-year-old respond?
“I finished my homework,” he said.