“Nothing is impossible for pure love.”-Mahatma Gandhi
Love is a universal emotion. It is a feeling that all deserve to experience regardless of race, gender, culture, and socioeconomic status in some form or fashion. It is truly one of the greatest forms of human interaction and a catalyst that drives all other emotions. It has endless power and is the greatest connector and healer in the universe.
Enter Bryan Smith and Ken Watford —a vital part of my Nashville production of Culture, Curators and Cuisine.
As a unit, these two are a powerhouse. Whether they are traveling the world to beautiful and exotic lands, collecting ancient artwork or hiking some of the nation’s most challenging and exhilarating nature trails, individually and collectively their energy is contagious. They reside in the Southern Oasis of Nashville, Tennessee in a beautiful home on Radnor Lake Nature conservatory.
There are couples who are amazing and there are couples who are amazingly special.
Ken and Bryan are the latter. Equally as dynamic yet, individually, inspiring. They are in love and they just so happen to be gay. Why mention this, you ask when the former is of course, of little consequence to who they are and how their beautiful love is expressed? But, in our society, labels are powerful. It should not matter because we are designed to love who we want and it burdens me that we still live in a world that both, directly and indirectly, threatens the existence of these two amazing beings and their love story.
They are the first humanitarian couple that I have met, to open their stunning home, in all of its glory solely for the purpose in which it was created. It was designed specifically to host charitable events and philanthropic endeavors. They have committed one of their most personal and intimate spaces for others to use as a method of bringing individuals together to cultivate and create powerful change.
Meeting these two compelling leaders motivated me to not only step up my travel game and see more of this beautiful world but, they inspired me to evaluate how I can use all of my resources to serve others that are working for society and social change.
Meet Bryan Smith and Ken Watford—global citizens, philanthropists and culture curators.
(Written from the perspective of Bryan but, opinions are mutually shared with Ken)
DS: Why Nashville?
BS & KW: Nashville means a lot to my partner of nearly five years and I. I was born 40 miles from here so it has always been home. I have lived in three different states and multiple cities, but Nashville is home. Ken moved to Nashville from rural Mississippi to attend graduate school and to further his career in medicine. Nashville has a unique personality unlike any other city in the United States that we have visited. Ken likes to say that Nashville is a city with a small-town personality and friendliness. He fell in love almost immediately upon leaving Mississippi. It is home to spectacular city parks and greenways, which allow people to have space to breathe. Ken and I pay close attention to the unique “energy” of a city or space, and Nashville just has great energy. We feel very safe and alive in Nashville.
DS: Why are you passionate about LGBT equality in the community?
BS & KW: Ken grew up in the rural Mississippi Delta, and I grew up in rural Tennessee. We both grew up in conservative, religious homes that were not open-minded to LGBT concerns and rights. We both tried our best to conform to the norms and expectations of heterosexual lifestyles. We both felt the emotional pain and shame of inwardly knowing that we were gay. This shame causes enormous emotional trauma that can often take a lifetime to resolve. Unfortunately, and too often, some LGBT individuals are never able to overcome this self- hatred and Ken and I feel so empathetic for these human beings. Ken and I would never desire that any other human being experience the emotional pain that we experienced on our individual life journeys. Although considered the “buckle of the Bible belt”, Nashville has provided us both with a safe and welcoming environment to outwardly find our true sexuality, even as an interracial gay couple. We believe that by proudly and openly living our gay life together, others might find the courage do the same.
We are thrilled to see barriers to LGBT equality disappear one- by-one over the past few years. We could have never imagined that same-sex marriage would even be possible in our lifetimes, yet this is now the law of the land. This gives us enormous pride. We continue to passionately seek the elimination of new barriers that have begun to arise in our current political environment.
Ken and I have become much more politically active in the past two years, and we enthusiastically support politicians and leaders that support LGBT equality.
DS: Living in the South, have you found this to be a more challenging narrative to have?
BS & KW: As previously mentioned, the “South” has many shades. As with many other parts of the country, urban areas such as Nashville generally provide a safer and more welcoming environment for both gay and minority individuals, and also interracial couples. Although we have not experienced any firsthand hostility or violence while living in the South, we know of many others who have faced dangers in rural areas. We actually see living in the South to be an opportunity to help more close-minded individuals to learn that LGBT individuals are not a threat and should not be hated or feared.
DS: What gains do you hope to see in the future as a result of the work you are putting in and the causes that you choose to support?
BS & KW: Ken and I have become much more active with both political activism and community service in the past few years. We eagerly utilize our resources to support organizations and foundations that support and advance the values of tolerance, diversity, cultural exchange, and compassion. We hope to see these endeavors blossom and expand those very (same) values to previously less enlightened segments of our society.
DS: What advice would you give to your younger selves
BS & KW: It is okay to be yourself. Never feel shame over who you are. Be proud of yourself and for your accomplishments.
DS: Why is philanthropy so crucial to the communities we live in?
BS & KW: Philanthropy is the institutional instrument by which we leave our legacy. Our goal is simply to leave the world in a slightly better condition than when we entered.
DS: How do you define what it means to leave a legacy?
BS & KW: For us, this is a simple answer. If we can alter the trajectory of even a single person in a more positive direction, this is a worthwhile legacy.
Edited by Joy Davis
Check out this amazing video capturing their home and beautiful love created by @thevisuallyricist