Brooklyn’s ‘Own Black Shining Prince’

Dr. Sallie M. Cuffee, Faculty Senate Chair of Medgar Evers College | 10/31/2013, 4:31 p.m.

Owens always had the education of the next generation on his mind. Without the discipline and exposure of education to broaden the minds of our youth, he knew that no race could succeed and realize its greatest God-given potential. He understood that intrinsically, because he knew how education had given him wings to fly high above his humble beginnings in a segregated society. Consequently, one can better understand his colorful but forceful legislative activism on Capitol Hill, which resulted in measures to improve education services to high-risk populations. For him, education was a human right, not a privilege to be enjoyed only by the powerful elite or the talented tenth of high society.

To my regret, I only got to experience a narrow slice of his life, but oh, what a hidden treasure of friendship I discovered. Here, at Medgar Evers College, we joined arms as colleagues in the struggle to challenge a disengaged and out-of-touch administration to return this college to its founding mission and to keep education in the reach of poor and working-class youth who were marginalized and underserved by an underfunded school system. I hope that many of us understand the toll that it took upon his health and life, but he gladly sacrificed it anway. Owens was a public servant in the best of sense.

How I wish he were here today to give us the benefit of his wise counsel. He would surely advise any leadership that sacrifice without redemption leaves an institution vulnerable and in peril of repeating its past. Who will now take the torch and continue the risk-taking legacy that Owens embodied and left behind to make Medgar Evers College the institution it is poised to become for a 21st century community?

For now, we, the college community, bid him farewell, but Brooklyn’s own Black shining prince will never be forgotten.