MED Week 2019 wraps up with Minority Business Achievement Awards Gala

(l-r) Ashley Northington, Ashford Hughes, Marilyn Robinson and Franklin M. Lee at the Economic Inclusion: A Central Strategy For Economic Development MED Week Lunch n Learn event on Wednesday, December 11 at Nashville City Club. (Photo: Anthony Beasley Photography)

Hundreds gathered at the Nashville City Club on December 13 celebrating the minority best business owners and business professionals in the Nashville community. The thirty seventh annual Minority Business Honors and Awards program, presented by the Nashville Minority Business Center opened for guests and a cocktail hour at 7pm, followed by the Awards program, dinner and dancing to the sounds of Will Davenport.

Lethia Mann, Vice President and Community Development Manager for Middle and East Tennessee and North Carolina at Regions Bank greeted the attendees.

“On behalf of our bank, we are so delighted to be the presenting sponsor of these outstanding awards,” she began “As many of you know, I have a long history with the Nashville Minority Business Center. For more than 17 years, as the Center’s Vice President, I worked alongside Ms. Marilyn Robinson to support, uplift, advocate, and acknowledge of minority business owners who have not only been trailblazers in their respective industries, but who have also upheld a strong commitment to community. Now, it is time for us to recognize, Ms. Marilyn Robinson. She is this city’s champion for minority business. She is a trailblazer, too. And, she has upheld her commitment to the minority business community. In October of this year, she marked thirty-five years of business development, policy advocacy, and leadership with the Nashville Minority Business Center. Almost everyone in this room owes Marilyn a debt of gratitude. She is the epitome of persistence… the Queen of Contracting Equity.”

Ms. Ashley Northington served as mistress of ceremony for the evening.

“I’m Ashley. And I serve on the Minority Enterprise Development Week Steering Committee. I’m also a small business owner, and I know firsthand how important the work the Nashville Minority Business Center does on behalf of business owners like me. I’ve been partnering with the Center for nearly five years, and I am excited about all of the policy progress we’ve seen this past year. I’m looking forward to working with Marilyn and others to make even more strides for business owners.”

Addressing the honorees, she said, “You all – the honorees – inspire me to be great. And I know that if you inspire me. You inspire countless others, and that is why we are saluting you tonight.

“Tonight, we will recognize the Corporate Partner and Minority Business Advocate of the Year as those established organizations and individuals that have sought to improve conditions for minority owned businesses. We will also give the Minority Business Commitment Award to an individual who has dedicated her career to ensuring equity and inclusiveness in the public contracting space. We will recognize two companies as Minority Businesses of the Year, tipping our collective hat to one business owned by a man and one owned by a woman. And lastly, but most certainly not least, we will recognize two enduring business icons as our Green Book Legacy Award recipients.”

First, the Corporate Partner of the Year Award was given to J.E. Dunn Construction. Cherelle Cortez, the company’s east region senior diversity and inclusion manager, accepted. The Minority Business Advocate of the Year Award was given to Ashford Hughes, president of Blueprint Solutions, who recently served as the Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer for the City of Nashville and Davidson County.

The Minority Business Commitment Award went to Michelle Hernandez Lane, Metro Nashville Chief Procurement Officer. The Minority Businesses of the Year Awards recognized both a man and woman in this category, Minority Business Woman of the Year Caryn Clopton, Chief Executive Officer of Excel Facility Management Group, and Minority Businessman of the Year Ken Thomas, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Archangel Protective Services.

Senator Brenda Gilmore helped recognize the Green Book Legacy Award recipients, two longstanding African American-owned companies that were listed in the Green Book in the 1960s among more than 1,900 businesses that were owned by African Americans and / or were deemed safe for travelers and residents of color across the country. Among the dozen or so businesses in Nashville that were listed in the historic Green Book, only two remain. Those businesses are Swett’s Restaurant and R&R Liquor Store.

Walter and Susie Swett operated a gas station in Nashville in 1938, and purchased Joyland Tavern on 11th Avenue in 1952 while simultaneously operating Swett’s Grocery Store on 28th and Albion. In 1954, they opened Swett’s Dinette, the foundation for what we know today as Swett’s Restaurant.

John Robert Christman left his job, a very good job working on the railroad, to launch his own company with his business partner Robert Davis. So, in 1949, they launched R&R. As a testament to R&R’s legacy, the family business will be featured as part of the upcoming traveling exhibit of The Green Book produced by the Smithsonian Museum and the Library of Congress.

The Awards program was the final event of a week of programs, including three consecutive Lunch N Learn events at the Nashville City Club.