On a sunny October day, a group of North Carolina debutantes learned what to do when they get pulled over by the police.
“Do we have any bad police stories?” asked Captain Norman Garnes, Army veteran, grandfather, Kappa Alpha Psi brother, and second-generation black cop.
people did it.
The room held more than 50 people, all masked and temperature checked: parents, Kappa alumni, teenagers in the Kappa League, and the stars of the show: the 11 high school seniors in Charlotte’s 46th annual Kappa Alpha Psi Beautillion Militaire, a modern day Black tradition , which takes a tradition once cherished in the South by elites who believed in the unshakable supremacy of the white race and turns it on its head by presenting young men stereotyped as potential criminals rather than potential police chiefs.
Among those listening intently was Peyton Patterson, 18. He wondered what a white officer would say, what a white officer sees when he looks at a young black man like himself.
Patterson has a lot going for him: educated and devoted parents, a church community, a basketball community, a close-knit group of friends who like his parents. He lives in a house with cut glass door panels and a vaulted ceiling; He is tall and handsome and goes to a private school. He chooses between three colleges.
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When asked about his dreams, he doesn’t respond with lofty ambitions or visions of NBA glory, but with a tailored career plan: either owning a marketing firm or working as a business systems analyst for a large corporation (“the ultimate IT professional”). he explains).
No wonder Patterson’s dad calls him a “steadfast Eddie.”
Nevertheless, the Kappas know that young people need support for their dreams, no matter how well thought out. That’s why they have the Beautillion program. Senior year of high school is a crucial time, bro. David Taylor said: “We know it is. You are about to leave home, you are about to grow up.”
The Beautillion program teaches table manners and how to tie a tie; There are three weeks of dance classes. But the Kappas think young black men need more substance. These sessions are surpassed by those on mental health, interview skills, money management, and STEM careers.
The Beaus met Harvey Gantt, Charlotte’s first black mayor. Patterson had to give a speech about the most influential person of our time — Vice President Kamala Harris, he said — and submit an essay from school (he chose to write about DNA identification databases).
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Patterson is hungry for all of this, hungry to improve. “I know most kids my age, 18, probably don’t care about this stuff,” he said.
But he doesn’t think about what’s popular. “I can get ahead of the game if I take advantage of that,” he said.
Everyone, reach one
At least since WEB Du Bois coined the concept of the “talented tenth,” successful black adults have felt a sense of community responsibility, the need to work toward collective betterment in a world that erects barriers. The slogans are legion: everyone reaches out and rises as we climb.
The type of care the Kappas provide can make a difference. Research shows that mentoring is especially important and effective for young black men, especially to help them succeed in college.
The beautillion encircles young males with supportive adults and like-minded people. The brothers serve as models of success and brotherhood. Their names are painted on the parking lots at Kappa Hall. No wonder Patterson’s parents were thrilled when their son was invited to apply to the program.
Sometimes seeking protection meant their own exclusion by class, historian Tanisha Ford has said. The modern black cotillon began in the 1940s with the rise of the black middle class. Shut out from white society and looking for a buffered network of wealthy families – to separate themselves from lower-class African Americans – organizations like Jack and Jill, the Links, and the “Divine Nine” fraternities and sororities formed their own balls .
These groups require a combination of dues, four-year college degrees, sponsorship and serious volunteer hours, and thus exclude all but, as the late Lawrence Otis Graham put it, “our kind of people.” Her cotillons emphasized the seriousness and purity of young women, who were expected to be “the moral compass of the race,” Ford said.
The Beautillion emerged in a more overtly political period in the wake of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. It expanded in the ’70s and ’80s in response to police crackdowns on the civil rights movement, the return of political conservatism, and the demonization of young black men that came with urban renewal and the War on Drugs. “It seeks to challenge and change this narrative of the criminal, pathologically deviant black man. Especially the urban black man,” Ford said.
Cotillions and Beautillions have become somewhat democratized as they expand, Ford said. The Capital City Kappas have a Beautillion and Capital City Jack and Jill have a biennial coed “Cobeau,” but so do the Fort Bragg Delta Sigma Thetas; The Asheville Alpha Kappa Alphas and Greensboro Kappa Alpha Psis have held beautillions.
The Kappa Beautillion requires a member to be nominated, and in order to be accepted, interviews with the would-be beau and his father are required. But not all participants were born privileged, Taylor said. There is no financial obligation. They raise money for college scholarships, and the first $750 covers program expenses like tuxedo rentals.
The second criticism of cotillions and beautillions, Ford said, is that by emphasizing personal responsibility, they encourage individual solutions to structural problems. In other words, if your teenage son wears a blazer instead of a hoodie, he might not get shot. The Beaus read the 1959 self-help book The Magic of Thinking Big, which teaches that you can do anything you put your mind to, no excuses.
“Holding on to notions of respectability is one way black parents try to protect their children,” Ford said. But “good clothes will never save us. Going to college will not protect you from police brutality.”
While Patterson avoids wearing a hood in public, he and his family know personal responsibility doesn’t solve everything.
“When I work at Harris Teeter, I get a lot of looks from old white guys,” Patterson said. Sometimes they feel threatened when he tries to help them to their cars.
Capt. Garnes knows it too. In a police department full of multigenerational white officer families, it wasn’t until 2002 that he and his father became the first black father-son couple.
“You can do everything right and something will still go wrong in the end,” the officer told the Beaus. He’s being realistic and not trying to scare her, he said. But whatever, we have to do something. When driving, we have to stay in control. … We cannot control what others do.”
Patterson agrees. He finds The Magic of Thinking Big inspiring.
“In a world where there’s still systemic racism,” he said, the Beautillion mentors are trying to “prepare us for it so that we might be able to improve it in the future.”
trust and humility
This year’s admirers have already raised more than $38,000. Patterson is the top fundraiser so far with 59 donors. He was sweating all over his pitch. Which of his achievements should be highlighted? He chose leadership with his school responsibilities as co-chair of the Sports Prefects Committee and his many volunteer commitments: Life Connections of the Carolinas, Elevation Church, Hospitality House, Charlotte Mecklenburg Dream Center, Samaritan’s Feet.
He wrote, “I intend to continue my passion for ministry throughout college and to spread God’s light to all I come in contact with.”
Sometimes people ask why Patterson needs a beautillion. They say, “Look at your house.” They think that mentoring and similar youth development programs are only for boys in the hood.
But even economically stable young men need guidance, Patterson said. And he’s had a tough year. Since September he has been recovering from a severe concussion that left him unconscious for a full five minutes. He sat on the sidelines, cheered on his basketball teammates, wore sunglasses against photosensitivity and battled brain fog to earn a clear ace
What has the Beautillion program brought him so far? “Trust,” Patterson said. His voice dropped. “I’ve struggled with a lack of confidence for a very long time.”
That’s something most people wouldn’t imagine when they look at him. He thought he was humble. “What I learned in the program – being humble doesn’t mean putting yourself out there. It brings them up to your level with you,” he said. In basketball terms, humility means passing the ball to someone who has a better shot. Lack of confidence means not taking the clear shot and fitting in with someone who isn’t open minded.
This Saturday, the Beaux and her consorts will slip into the auditorium of the University of North Carolina fraternity in Charlotte. They will dance to Ne-Yo with their companions and to Jazz with their mothers.
Patterson tried on the tuxedo for a fitting and photo session with his parents last month. Physically, it didn’t feel too different from other clothes he’s worn, he said.
“But the way I looked in the clothes – I looked very professional. I looked like the future.”
Danielle Dreilinger is a storytelling reporter from North Carolina and the author of The Secret History of Home Economics, a popular 2021 NPR story book. Contact her at 919-236-3141 or [email protected]