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Hal­loween has just got­ten sex­ier. The fourth an­nual Gen­tle­men’s Ball will take over At­lanta’s Mar­riott Mar­quis on Oct. 31 for a lav­ish black-tie gala. It has quickly be­come one of the hottest events of the year for black gay At­lanta.

The Gen­tle­men’s Ball is the cre­ation of event plan­ners and hus­bands Juan and Gee Ses­sion-Smalls. It is the sig­na­ture event for their Gen­tle­men’s Foun­da­tion, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to the healthy de­vel­op­ment of gay and bi­sex­ual men of color through sup­port, em­pow­er­ment and men­tor­ing.

Gee Ses­sion-Smalls tells Ge­or­gia Voice that the ball has com­pletely evolved away from the cou­ple’s ini­tial con­cept.

“The orig­i­nal idea was to have a sec­ond-chance prom for the LGBT com­mu­nity,” he says. “How­ever, af­ter we came up with its name it quickly evolved into an event that cel­e­brated the true gen­tle­man, which we be­lieve is a man that is con­fi­dent in him­self, gen­er­ous in his giv­ing and proud to stand tall in his truth.”

This year’s ball, ap­pro­pri­ately themed, “Be­yond the Masks,” will be co-hosted by Cyn­thia Bai­ley of The Real Housewives of At­lanta and by tele­vi­sion host Karamo Brown. Au­di­ences may re­mem­ber Brown as the first openly gay black man on MTV’s The Real World. He re­turns for a sec­ond year as co-host.

A sin­gle fa­ther, model, and pop cul­ture ex­pert, Brown tells Ge­or­gia Voice that he agreed to par­tic­i­pate this year af­ter wit­ness­ing first­hand the work of The Gen­tle­men’s Foun­da­tion.

“I saw the im­pact the first year had on in­di­vid­u­als’ lives,” says Brown. “And when you see that type of im­pact, you want to be a part of that again be­cause you see that you’re ef­fec­tively cre­at­ing change and mov­ing the con­ver­sa­tion around what it Co-founder Juan Ses­sion-Smalls em­braces an at­tendee at the 2014 Gen­tle­men’s Ball. (File photo) means to be black, gay, bi­sex­ual, or same gen­der lov­ing.”

Guests at­tend­ing this year’s ball will be treated to a deca­dent three-course meal, com­pli­men­tary cock­tails, net­work­ing, and mu­sic pro­vided by DJ Richie Skye. At­lanta na­tive and R&B singer Al­ge­bra Bles­sett will also per­form dur­ing the evening. But Brown be­lieves it’s the love that per­me­ates the event that is its big­gest draw.

“You’re go­ing to feel im­mense amounts of love when you walk into the room. Peo­ple are laugh­ing, danc­ing, the mu­sic, the food, ev­ery­thing is jovial and it makes you feel good about be­ing alive,” he says. “You’re go­ing to walk away feel­ing bet­ter about who you are and about the strides

you’ve made in your life.”

Party with a pur­pose

A key com­po­nent of The Gen­tle­men’s Foun­da­tion and The Gen­tle­men’s Ball is men­tor­ing gay and bi­sex­ual youth through their “mPact2” (Men Prac­tic­ing, Af­firm­ing, and Cel­e­brat­ing Their Truth) men­tor­ing pro­gram. The pro­gram fo­cuses on pro­mot­ing the spir­i­tual and men­tal well-be­ing of mi­nor­ity youth ages 18–25 through lead­er­ship and ed­u­ca­tional de­vel­op­ment.

“We want to help trans­form how so­ci­ety per­ceives gay men of color,” says Ses­sion-Smalls. “We want to help show our youth that you can be a proud gay man and there is noth­ing to be ashamed of.”

The Gen­tle­men’s Ball


Ses­sion-Smalls is adamant about chang­ing the ex­pe­ri­ences of young gay men of color who are at greater risk for de­pres­sion and sui­cide.

“It’s so im­por­tant for us to take what we’ve learned and share it with young men so that they don’t have to ex­pe­ri­ence what we did,” he says. “When we were grow­ing up we did not have any­one that we could look up to, seek guid­ance from or sim­ply em­brace us for who we were.”

“It’s great to get dressed up to get in­volved, but it’s about the work that you’re do­ing day in and day out,” says Brown. “That’s re­ally where ef­fec­tive change hap­pens. And The Gen­tle­men’s Foun­da­tion men­tor­ing pro­gram is in­spir­ing young men on an ev­ery day ba­sis.”

The in­spi­ra­tion will con­tinue at The Gen­tle­men’s Ball as LGBT lead­ers, straight al­lies and emerg­ing voices in the black gay com­mu­nity are rec­og­nized with var­i­ous awards through­out the evening.

Con­gress­man John Lewis will re­ceive the Gen­tle­man of Al­liance award, a new award added this year to honor LGBT al­lies. “Black­bird” di­rec­tor and cre­ator of gay tele­vi­sion se­ries “Noah’s Arc,” Pa­trik-Ian Polk, will re­ceive the Gen­tle­man of Ex­cel­lence Award. Vaughn Alvarez and Derrick Tiller­son com­plete the list of hon­orees in the Gen­tle­man of Prom­ise and Gen­tle­man of Ser­vice cat­e­gories.

“It’s ex­tremely im­por­tant to give our own the chance to show­case their art,” says Ses­sion-Smalls. We’ve also added the Gen­tle­man of Artistry award in which the win­ner will be de­cided by the fans and will not only be awarded, but will have the op­por­tu­nity to per­form live at the ball.”

Ac­cord­ing to Ses­sion-Smalls, this year’s mas­quer­ade-themed ball is one not to be missed.

“We learn from our mis­takes with each ball and that makes us bet­ter. We hope our guests will leave inspired, mo­ti­vated and amazed, but most of all en­riched.”

Oc­to­ber 16, 2015

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