NASHVILLE, TN — Kwame Leo Lillard was the younger of two children born in Bartow, FL with a few grades completed there for schooling. With the entrepreneurial spirit in tow for a larger city, his mother and father chose Nashville to fulfill the call- ing to further the opportunity for business. With the
burgeoning growth of Music City, his parents garnered customers for both cosmetology and upholstery, but Leo adored the bus- tling cohesive nature of the Black community. This was the impetus of the young mind for Leo, learn- ing all the intricacies of networking in Nashville’s Black Community by attending schools at Carter Lawrence, Pearl High School and the beloved Ten- nessee Agricultural & Industrial College. Between the established South Nashville and business savvy North Nashville, one couldn’t lose! The irreplaceable Black dollar stayed in the same area long enough for children and families to enduringly be secure with- out resting on one single laurel.
With all he saw, there was an important mantra being pushed: education and skill! ‘The calculating brain for Leo lent itself to the balanced and struc- tured ideal of math in Engineering. He was actually able to find a way to bridge math and culture together
in Industrial Engineering; his studies were the origin of how he would fight for poor housing codes in New York City, to not close the only historically Black high school for Nashville in the ‘70s take a stand for how 1-440 would further break apart and ruin neighborhoods far after 1-40 already had, and represent District 5 as the proverbial “rebel” for the Nashville City Council.
Rebellion as a prac- tice is not always a posi- tive course of action and at times is counterproductive. Most importantly, though, it never leads to enlighten- ment. However, to be a rev- olutionary is neither always popular nor overwhelm- ingly accepted yet can be a sustaining accomplishment to transform a world. Leo learned this in New York as a City Planner support- ing families combating poor housing codes and practices from the powers on high. ‘There were many people of multiple agencies to call upon, interact, and argue with, get answers, and learn from, all while sharing the ideal in action to make people safe in their homes. He was enamored with the diversity of New York in all the cultures, music, modes of transpor- tation, and foods! ‘There- fore, the infectious verbal and passionate spirit New Yorkers embodied provided a meaningful education: even if you don’t agree with someone, the resource of that person’s thoughts is a tool to glean additional wisdom. Consequently, in due course, he met North Carolinian Evelyn Down- ing, who became his wife of 53 years.
As a skillful Industrial Planner, he used the me- dium of television and pic- tures to convey meaning. Catching someone’s atten- tion with wordplay disas- sociation as to “white-ball the establishment”, or not stand while the Pledge of Allegiance is being recited as ‘The Tennessean takes a candid shot is classic Leo- ‘The wit is most certainly not to be confused with any tongue-in-cheek triteness, but for you to take heed: there is an educated Black Man imparting impactful knowledge for action and (perhaps) uprising!
Additionally, during this time, another layer of evolu- tion was taking place with- in; a desire to go straight to the Motherland of our eth- nic experience here in the United States for inspira- tion. First, take upon an Af- rican name: Kwame, mean- ing 1 born on Saturday; and secondly, create the African American Cultural Alli- ance! Goals may have been lofty in the beginning, but then Black Nashville in the ‘50s did astoundingly well long before a Black Pages ever existed here. It will be exciting to build an or- ganization that will bridge history, Blackness, culture, and agency into a union… It is indeed a passion and a purpose unified. It is per- fect for Leo to forge on to make it come to fruition.
The knowledge in him oozed out from engaging with others, so teaching became an innate prac- tice. Whether setting up a Kwanzaa display at work; speaking at elementary schools during Black His- tory Month; keeping the spirit of the Freedom Fight- ers alive in the hearts and minds of others compelled to know what a sacrifice to dwell on this earth means; to receive and host co- ed university students on guided bus tours from near and far to share what Civil Rights imbues; to extract K -12 students from their seats in the assembly to sit at a make-shift lunch coun- ter to be yelled at, harassed and aggressively cajoled; to learn and annually com- memorate the United States Colored Troops legacy to maintain this nation; and to facilitate the many mov- ing parts of the re-known African Street Festival in Nashville clearly demon- strate Leo’s unyielding love of community, Blackness, history, and culture.
Leo Kwame Lillard is preceded in death by his parents, Leo Lancelot Lil- lard and Louise Taylor Lil- lard; and sister, Ellen L. Carr.
He is survived by his wife, Evelyn Downing; son, Leo K. (Marcia) Lil- lard; daughter, Jessica S. (devoted friend Elliott) Lillard; son, Joshua (de- voted friend Laura) Gosiac; daughter, Nyleve L. (Ste- ven) Anderson; adopted son, Chiffonda Washing- ton; adopted daughter, Mia Cole (Spencer) Washing- ton; grandchildren, Spencer Rocquan, Steven “Benton” (father Steve), Aaliyah Jean, Mariah Jonelle, Leo Jor- dan “IV”, Malcolm Wil- liam, Skyler Amre’, Malena Imani and Kyan Louis; Joyce Perkins (mother of Leo and Jessica); nephew, Lewis (Mari) Carr; great- niece, Misa Carr; and in- numerate loving, energetic family who enjoyed playing tennis, skiing, meticulous calendar keeping of family events, and Sunday meals around the table with robust discussion and enactments.
An awkward, younger teenage Leo has grown-up to recognize how wonder- ful, sustaining and fun- loving his Pearl High Class of1957 is. No event in Nashville goes unmet with- out them all responding and participating. Alongside trusted friends, cohorts, and colleagues: Harold Jude “Smitty” Smith, Cepo Dumasani, King Hollands, Rossi “Bombata” Turner, Louis Smiley, Lem Peter- kin, Richard Beasley, and Joseph Love. Lastly, he has been an actively en- gaged soul never wanting empowerment to be left by the wayside. The Downing Family has been a long- lasting source of support and balance to complete that circle of family.