Rep Owens — he cared about children the most

[Farewell Rep Owens]

Reverend Clarence Norman, Sr., of First Baptist Church of Crown Heights in Brooklyn, began the service “Celebration of Life for Hon. Major R. Owens,” with a familiar verse: “It is well with my soul.”

“Once again we stand on the shore and watch a ship sail,” into the mist of the future, he said.

This time, however, those in attendance came “to celebrate the life, times and contributions of Major Owens” and to “comfort his family.”

Telling the family, “God will take care of  you,” Rev. Norman called Major Owens a “quiet, gentle person who was effective, dynamic and changed the life of so many.”

In fact, the Congressman was “a servant of god, who was called home, but he will always live” in the hearts, minds and motifs of the people.

Not many people have had the indubitable distinction of having a US Congressman in their living room to discuss the dynamics of a local library, as I did.

But then again, not only was Major Odell Owens a man of the people, but the only librarian ever elected to the US Congress. As a journalist I covered several Town Hall meetings Mr. Owens held at PS 167 on Eastern Parkway during the Rudolph Giuliani years, in his efforts to create economic and political empowerment for his constituency.

At an event regarding Panamanian politics and international peace, hosted by Dr. Waldaba Steward at the Eastern Parkway and Bedford Avenue venue, with Carlos Russell in attendance, Congressman Owens discussed the utility of the Congressional Black Caucus by saying, “People often question why we’re there. It is not so much the legislation we sponsor, but those we block. So much frivolous legislation is introduced onto the floor of the US House of Congress, if we are not there to block such, it would be disastrous for Black and poor people.”

Nevertheless, while Major Owens was a tireless champion of Civil Rights and an advocate for funding ob Black Colleges, his singular legislative accomplishment was the Americans with Disabilities Act, of which beneficiaries Agnes Abraham, Peter Jones and Dorothy Williams-Pereira were there to say thank you and sing praises to a remarkable man yesterday.

In his Prayer of Comfort, Reverend Daryl Bloodsaw said “Major Owens understood the power of words. He was a champion of education who bore the scars of battle of long campaigns against worthy opponents.”

An admirer of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Theresa, and as an Adjunct Professor at Medgar Evers College, he inspired the youth. In fact, he wrote poems extolling the virtues of young people. His oldest brother, Ezekiel, Jr.,  described him: “On the floor of the House of Representatives he was ‘the little man from Brooklyn.’”

This “rapping Congressman,” who “was ready to put on his long white robes,” his brother recalled.

Dr. Rudy Crew, former Chancellor of the New York City Board of Education and now President of Medgar Evers College, spoke of the many people whose lives have been touched by this man.  His story at Medgar was “one of truth, justice and honor.”

He said they met in 1995 when Crew was Chancellor of the New York City School System. Then they had a conversation about the Mayor.

Crew recalled how Owens said, “‘Son you’re new, be careful. If you’re grounded you’re all right. Stay strong.’”

“After all the hoopla and accolades, I was fired in 2000 and on my way out of town I met major who said, ‘I read there’s a problem. Don’t worry. Time will come,'” Crew added.

“He was very gracious, very kind, very spiritual. His very kindness, strength, character made sense to me. He reassured me, ‘Don’t worry son, you’ll be alright.’ In 2008, he became an Adjunct Professor at Medgar Evers College and was loved and revered by students and faculty. He had so much pride in himself. In July 2013 I became President of Medgar Evers College.”

“Your daddy looked just like my father,” Crew added, addressing Owens’ children. “I felt so much better. It’s Okay now. Not because I’m here but because he was here.”

“We’re better in our lives because your daddy did right,” he said.

Councilman Albert Vann, began by asking for a standing roll-call of those who came to pay tribute to Major Owens: 6 Congressmen; 9 City Council persons; 9 State officials; 7 Citywide persons; the Brooklyn County Leader; 20 Clergy members; and, Carl McCall, all stood up.

They came to commemorate the life and work of a former State Senator and Commissioner of Community Development Agency, after serving as Bronxville Community Development Executive Director.

“This is a humbling experience. Dying is a humbling experience. Honorable Major Owens, may peace be upon him,” Vann said. “Those who knew or knew of Major Owens respected him. He was an extraordinary, intelligent man who demanded respect and got respect.”

“He had an unbelievable work ethic. He had endless, boundless energy dedicated to seeking solutions of community problems. Multi-talented, he was a thinker, writer, community organizer,” he said.

“He was also a poet. Third, major Owens was a man of integrity who maintained a high standard of moral authority. Fourth, he chose to identify with the masses and empower the poor through economic and political empowerment initiatives, particularly through his anti-poverty programs. Fifth, Medgar Evers students were blessed to have Major Owens. The foundations of Medgar Evers was made stronger because of Major Owens,” Vann added, and concluded: “Take your seat dear brother, your job was well done.”

Civil Rights icon Congressman John Lewis, said: “You can tell a Morehouse man, but you can’t tell him much.” He also quoted the Roman philosopher and Senator Seneca, who said, “Nothing but nothing stops a good man doing what is good and honorable.”

In closing, and quoting Acts 13: 36, Reverend Norman believed Major Owens came or was born for a specific purpose: “When a man has completed his work, god calls him home. Only the other day we announced the Congressman has passed. Immediately people began asking ‘How did he die?’”

“We should not ask how he died, but how he lived. He was a dedicated servant of god. A man of the people. We’re here to leave this world better than we found it. Ours must be a life of service, to be concerned about people.”

Reverend Norman praised Major Owens as one “who stood up; he never forgot the poor. He believed, ‘Education is a great equalizer.’”

“He was a decent , kind, compassionate, honest, wise, respectful individual with a sharp mind. I feel more than lucky. I feel blessed to have Major Owens as a friend,” Norman said. “The Congressman consistently insisted, ‘to bring change people should be bold, be courageous, find a way to make some noise. Don’t get lost in a sea of despair.’”



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