Francis S. Guess Award given to Ben Rechter

Ben Rechter (courtesy CFMT)

Ben Rechter (courtesy CFMT)

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The Francis S. Guess Bridge to Equality Award was created by the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee (CFMT) to honor the memory of a man who served our community with vigor, commitment, and pride for decades. Guess found his own bridge to equality and then created the same opportunities for others throughout the country and here at home. The award will continue to be given annually to individuals who, like Francis, have helped others attain equality and have created opportunities for all. Guess, who died last year, was well known in the community for his philanthropy work and civil rights advocacy.

Tuesday, May 24, the inaugural Francis S. Guess Bridge to Equality Award Luncheon was held at the Music City Center, to not only honor Guess but also Nashville businessman Ben Rechter, by awarding Rechter the first Bridge to Equality Award. Rechter has devoted his entire civic life to reaching out to help others attain equality and realize the American Dream. His heart and prodigious talent have always been devoted to creating opportunities for all.

Vicki Yates was the Mistress of Ceremonies for the luncheon program. Music was provided by the Fisk University Jubilee Singers as lunch was served. The menu was extraordinary — like Francis was. Locally sourced collard greens and mashed sweet potatoes accompanied a grilled chicken breast with vegetables and sauces, along with biscuits and cornbread to die for.

Sharon Ridley speaks about her life story (photo courtesy CFMT)

Sharon Ridley speaks about her life story (photo courtesy CFMT)

MBA accountant Sharon Ridley described how the CFMT had formed the bridges that took her from being a single teen mom from a low-income one-parent household to a bright future for her and her son. During the afternoon, several video tributes to both Guess and Rechter were shown, including a touching presentation that Guess had given at a Waller Firm event a few years prior to his death.

Posthumously, Guess was essentially the keynote speaker through that video. He described how he had negotiated the participation in Tennessee adapting the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday in the 1980’s. He touched on Rosa Parks and how students and others led the civil rights movement in the 1950’s and 1960’s because they were willing to pay the price.

“Ben Rechter gets things done for this community and has for decades,” Yates noted while introducing the honoree, “but he always followed Nelson Mandela’s philosophy: ‘It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory, when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger…’”

Rechter gave a brief response and was presented by incoming CFMT chair Kerry Graham with what he described as a specially-crafted “piece of art — a bridge created of stained-glass representing the array of beliefs and strengths alive and well in our community” made by local artist Sam Simms.

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