Deemed the “Black Dynasty,” the FOX TV show Empire has risen to epic levels of popularity —showcasing both the electrifying raw talent of its ensemble cast, as well as their devilishly raw storylines. At the center of the Empire is Terrence Howard. A veteran actor, with roles in movies such as the Best Man, Winnie, Ray, Crash, Four Brothers, and Hustle and Flow (for which he was nominated an Academy Award for Best Actor), Howard is best known these days for his role as Lucious Lyon, the unscrupulous patriarch of the Lyon family, and president of the entertainment corporation for which the show is named.
Just as the show has sparked controversy for its themes of murder, homophobia, hostile takeovers and the corruption of the recording industry, many believe its star, Howard, mirrors Lucious in many ways due to personal and emotional issues as well as rumors of violent behavior that have followed him over the years.
Yet, while the breakthrough television show has taken the country by storm, Howard, himself, was a gentle breeze—the bad boy image set aside for a day as he came to Denver to support the 2015 Be Beautiful, Be Yourself Fashion Show.
“The issue of Down syndrome is personal to my friends, so it’s important to me.” Howard said. “That’s a part of growing. If you stay in your own area, only looking at things you know about, you don’t grow. You have to look at the larger human family and what troubles exist out there.”
Howard attended the event with Tara Pak, the actor’s third wife, whom he reportedly divorced this past summer. The two appeared to be reconciled as Pak walked arm–in-arm with the actor on the red carpet.
In an ethereal mood, Howard shared privately, “We are not made in God’s image, but are all pieces of God. When we come together we show all the best parts of God.” That sense of benevolence played out through the night, as the couple demonstrated a great deal of generosity in their support of the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, which had a goal of raising $2 million through the event. Approximately 70 percent of the proceeds of the Be Beautiful event go toward research through the Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome and the Sie Center for Down Syndrome, both based in Colorado.
The opening auction item was a glass of water, for which the winning bid came from none other than Howard and Pak, for the hefty sum of $5,000. Auctioneer Jim Nye jokingly stated, “I’m not sure what he [Howard] is going to do with that glass of water; perhaps build an Empire.”
The couple also won the bid ($14,000) for two tickets to Super Bowl 50, which will be held in San Francisco on Feb. 7, 2016. The auction package included an official jersey and helmet autographed by Bronco’s Quarterback Peyton Manning.
Really getting into the swing of things, Howard offered an impromptu auction item: two days on the set of Empire (airfare included), along with two courtside seats to the Nuggets game. Bidding occurred while the Empire song, “You’re So Beautiful,” made popular by the show’s breakout stars, Jussie Smollett and Bryshere Y. Gray, played. That package went for $16,000.
The star-studded event featured Beverly Johnson, who attended with niece Natalie Russell. Johnson is credited with redefining American parameters of modeling and beauty with respect to race and age, making way for a new class of “seasoned” models and those of all hues. Most recently she has been identified with breaking the silence barrier for not only herself but many others who share they have been raped by actor/comedian Bill Cosby.
Johnson, by supporting the Be Beautiful event, which strives to destigmatize children with Down syndrome and help them gain confidence and self-acceptance, has helped redefine beauty in this realm as well. “I take a great deal of pride in seeing the self-confidence that has been built in my niece,” she shared. “I have a cousin who has Down syndrome also. I have been around people with Down syndrome all of my life. It is incredible to finally have the opportunity to do something about it.”
Jamie Foxx shared a similar sentiment: “When someone has the money to do something and gets to work to doing it, like Michelle (Sie Whitten and her family) it’s a great thing.” The Grammy and Academy Award winning actor, who has been a participant in the Be Beautiful event since its inception, says of the event’s evolution: “At first there was a serious feeling about the cause and the kids. Now people are coming to this event for the fun.” He added, “We are all taught to think about it that way until we remember, it’s just regular people. The kids like to dance and have fun and are just regular. I’ve been dealing with Down syndrome for 30 years, so I know.” Foxx was referring to his sister; DeOndra Dixon, an ambassador for the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, who has lived with him for the past 12 years. She walked down the aisle with Howard this year.
Each year, Global presents the Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy Award to an individual who has tirelessly advocated for the rights of the differently-abled. This year’s recipient was American Horror Story actress and Down syndrome self-advocate, Jamie Brewer. Jones, who was one of the masterminds behind creating the event, was not able to attend this year, but taped a message for his friends John and Anna Sie, who received the 2015 Exceptional Advocacy Award. The couple, along with daughter and executive director of Global Down Syndrome Foundation, Michelle Sie Whitten, has worked to find research and treatment for the condition since the birth of Sophie, Michelle’s daughter who was born with Down syndrome 12 years ago.
Whitten said that since they began their efforts medical care has improved, there are more guidelines, and scientists are making headway on research. She also made an uncanny correlation as well. Since her mother was diagnosed, in 2013, with stage four uterine cancer, research has uncovered ties between Down syndrome and cancer (as well as Alzheimer’s and auto immune deficiencies).
“Scientists have forged a way for a diagnosis for my mother, and Sophie has paved the way,” Whitten said.
The highlight of the evening was a fashion show, where the kids strutted their stuff on the runway. They included: 2015 Ambassador Clarissa Capuano, Jamie Foxx’s sister, aspiring dancer and former Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy recipient DeOndra Dixon, aspiring model and internet sensation Gigi Cunningham, and 18-year-old Devon Adelman who attended First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Beating the Odds” summit at the White House earlier this year, among several others. Other celebrities who modeled with the youth included Beau Bridges, Minka Kelly, Amanda Booth, Denver Broncos Brandon McManus, and Britton Colquitt and Denver Nugget Kenneth Faried, among others.
“I love the joy and energy the kids have,” said Faried, who marked his fifth year supporting the event. “The advice they gave me when I started was ‘just smile and the kids will take care of everything else.’ That’s been true.”