Better Brothers of Los Angeles (BBLA) celebrated a successful first year of existence with their second annual “Truth Awards,” on March 5. Last year’s initial gala, held at the historic Wilshire Ebell Theatre on the Miracle Mile, was such a rousing triumph with some 210 attendees that the gathering was moved to a larger venue—the Tagylan Cultural Complex, in the heart of Hollywood. A preliminary tally by Better Brothers co-founder Vincent Holmes has this year’s attendance count at 250, a significant increase for this emerging nonprofit.

Holmes reaffirmed the group’s vision: “The Truth Awards remain the signature event of BBLA and its mission of increasing the visibility LGBTQ individuals in the Black community.”

Once again, the headliner was entertainment diva Sheryl Lee Ralph, a long-time advocate for the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) community and a founder of the 501 c(3) DIVA Foundation designed to spread awareness and offer education about HIV/AIDS.

Within the past year, BBLA has lived up to its stated goal to develop a stronger sense of community by sponsoring a number of social outings, including hikes, screenings, theater outings to the Geffen Playhouse as well as to the Hollywood Bowl, along with regular happy hours events throughout the city.

An interesting offshoot of the happy-hour routine is the inclusion of financial literary sessions. Prior to the evening’s awards ceremony, BBLA co-founder Vincent Holmes (a principle analyst for the Los Angeles County Chief Executive Officer on his “day” job) took a break from the festivities to share information about this and other informational programs implemented during the organization’s two-year existence.

As a byproduct of the 30-year battle against the HIV/AIDS epidemic and other health issues, members of the LGBTQ community came to the realization that such maladies were not necessarily a death sentence, and with the prospect of living into middle age and beyond, individuals needed to face the possibility of an extended stay on the planet, and the need to “… prepare yourself to live.”

Impacting this awareness was the changing legal status of those identifying as LGBTQ, as well as the benefits (and consequences) of marriage, along with the obligations of tax preparation and all the duties faced by everyone, regardless of gender or orientation.

Other activities taken up by BBLA include fund drives to benefit Covenant House, the privately subsidized childcare agency for homeless youth, along with other mentoring programs. Last year, the group awarded two scholarships to students attending USC and West L.A. College. This year the group gave four scholarships— three to students enrolled at USC, and one to a young person at Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science.

Viewing the attendees at the night’s festivities, one could only be astonished at the level of achievement attained by those present, including honorees Gregory Bunn and Demetrius McCoy, who received The Mentoring Award for developing Angels Plight, which feeds the homeless and supports women and children in shelters; Bishop Yvette Flunder, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award in part for founding City of Refuge; Darrin P. Gayles, who was given the History Maker Award—the first openly gay African American federal judge appointed; Darryn Harris was given the Passing the Torch Award for helping Rep. Karen Bass organize and on policies that help African Americans meet economic empowerment, health and needs; Rev. Jenenne Macklin, a motivational speaker and wealth coach received The Mentor Award; Gerard McCallum received the Business Leadership Award for his work as project manager at Wilson Meany, which is working to transform Hollywood Park into the Los Angeles Rams home stadium, and advertising executive Aaron Walton who received a Lifetime Achievement Award for his work with the Walton Isaacson agency.

“I believe I have an obligation . . . to encourage others to be their own truth,” Walton said.

Sharing a little of his own story, which included attending school at Mount Saint Charles Academy in Rhode Island (alma mater of “60-Minutes” journalist Ed Bradley) and Boston’s Babson College, Walton calls himself an “angelic trouble maker,” in the vein of civil rights pioneer Bayard Rustin. Heading an advertising agency with partner Cory Isaacson in tandem with Magic Johnson, Walton embraces the challenges of marketing to a multicultural client base with offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo, and soon Dallas.

For more information on Better Brothers of LA, visit their website at: www.betterbrothersla.com.