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Helen Owens Biography


Principal, educational consultant, community activist

Although Helen Owens spent her first 12 years of life as the child of sharecroppers in Tennessee, she has since become an educated, caring, and committed professional well known for her devoted community service. The long list of honors and awards Owens has received indicate not only her achievements, but also her passion for improving life for her fellow man. As the nineteenth Grand Basileus for Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., she is committed to public service, leadership development, and the education of youth. She has also been a teacher, and is principal of Rose Hill Middle School in Jackson, Tennessee. Additionally, she owns an educational consulting firm, and is a common radio talk show host on Tennessee stations. Through her community activism and dedication to serving and improving the lives of youth, Owens has proven that a humble beginning need not lead to a humble life. Rising above her situation and striving to better herself and her community, Helen Owens has become a powerful example of professional and humanitarian success.

Born on March 10, 1937, Helen Louise Johnson was the fifth and youngest child of Womack Neville Johnson and Edna Newbern Johnson of Jackson, Tennessee. As sharecroppers, the Johnson family worked a farm owned by a landowner who provided the seed, tools, and living accommodations in exchange for a share of the crops produced on the farm. Although sharecropping was a part of life for many after the Civil War, it often produced more poverty for the workers because of unfair practices by powerful landowners. The majority of Owens' childhood was spent in this environment.

The will to rise above her situation and her desire to learn soon became evident in young Owens. She overcame her underprivileged childhood, graduated from Denmark High School, and then enrolled in Lane College, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree. She continued on to graduate school and earned a Masters of Education degree from Memphis University. Because of her love for learning, she then attended Trenton State University in New Jersey and North Carolina State University, and in 2004 was enrolled in a doctoral program at Memphis University.

While pursuing higher education, Helen found time to marry Robert G. Owens. The couple has since had four children: Robert Jr., born in 1959, Casandra, born in 1961, Roger, born in 1963, and Roderick, born in 1966. They also have two grandchildren.

Professionally, Owens has had a wide range of experiences, including public school teacher, principal, program coordinator, and consultant. Once she moved into higher education, Owens worked as an administrative assistant for the directors of several programs at Fayetteville State University and Lane College. She also helped the Tennessee State Department of Education develop the goals and strategies for the Career Ladder Program, which offered pay incentives for educators.

Once Owens became principal of the Jackson Rose Hill Middle School, her passion for ensuring student success became evident. As principal, she has been able to provide a service to the children of her community by managing the quality of their education. According to the Jackson-Madison County School System Web site where Owens is principal, the mission of the school is "to develop students who will graduate with the skills and attitudes to succeed in secondary education, post-secondary education, and the world of work, and who demonstrate the attributes of socially responsible citizens." Owens is an example of someone who has accomplished this mission. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People website claims that "Owens has a deep sense of commitment for the care and welfare of all children because of the extent to which programs and community played roles in her life."

In addition to her educational work, Owens served as the nineteenth Grand Basileus for the Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. The mission of this organization is to enhance the quality of life within the community through public service, leadership development, as well as education of youth. As Grand Basileus, or leader, of the organization, Owens shared in these goals. Sigma Gamma Rho addresses concerns that impact society educationally, civically, and economically, such as its 2004 campaign to increase the number of registered voters nationwide and mobilize voter turnout on election day. "Our goal is to add a minimum of 1.5 million new registered voters," said Owens on the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation Web site. "This may not seem like a significant number in a country as large as the United States. However, one need only reflect on the last presidential election to realize the importance of each and every vote."

Owens became the first black woman to serve on the Madison County Commission, where she was a member of the highway committee and liaison for the Juvenile Protective Services, the Madison County School Board, and the Jackson Symphony Association. She also owns a motivational speaking and consulting firm called Owens and Associates, through which she provides professional education services in the areas of human resources, diversity training, and motivational speaking. As an eloquent orator, she is also well known as a radio and television talk show host on local Tennessee stations.

A further indication of her interest in and concern for her community is her membership in numerous organizations. Some of these memberships include the United Way Board, the YMCA Board, Phi Delta Kappa, the Mayor's Committee on Diversity, the Jackson-Madison County General Hospital Foundation Board, the Salvation Army Board, and the National Pan Hellenic Council. As a member of the education profession, Owens is also a member of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Association of Curriculum Development, the National Education Association, and the Jackson Education Association.

Because of her deep commitment and service, Owens has a long list of honors and awards, indicating her community's appreciation for her sacrifices and hard work. She has received the Meritorious Service Award and Alumni of the Year Award from Lane College; the National Association for Higher Education Organization (NAFEO) Outstanding Alumni Award; the Leadership Jackson Service Award; the Kiwanis Club of Jackson Leadership Award; the Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. Leadership Award; the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. Educator of the Year award in 1999; the Boys and Girls Club Service Award; the United Methodist Church Leadership Award; and is listed in Outstanding Women of the Southeast for 1998.

At a Glance …

Born Helen Louise Johnson on March 10, 1937, in Jackson, TN; married Robert G. Owens; children: Robert Jr., Roger Fitzgerald, Roderick, and Casandra. Education: Lane College; TN, BA; University of Memphis, TN, MEd; enrolled in the doctoral program at the University of Memphis, 2004. Religion: Church of God in Christ.

Career: Fayetteville State University and Lane College, administrative assistant; Rose Hill Middle School, Jackson, TN, principal; Grand Basileus, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.; Owens and Associates (education consulting), founder.

Selected Memberships: Jackson, TN, Chamber of Commerce; Jackson-Madison County General Hospital Foundation, board member; United Way, board member; Salvation Army, board member; YMCA, board member; National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Selected Awards: Lane College, Meritorious Service and Alumni of the Year Award; National Association for Higher Education Organization, Outstanding Alumni Award; Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., Educator of the Year, 1999; Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., Leadership Award; United Methodist Church, Leadership Award.

Addresses: Office—Rose Hill Middle School, 2233 Beech Bluff Road, Jackson, TN 38301.

Helen Owens is a powerful example of enduring dedication and commitment to improving the lives of those around her. She has proven that success is a choice, and her ongoing service to her community has undoubtedly enhanced the lives of numerous individuals on many different levels.



"Black Greek-letter Organizations Unify and Collaborate for a Nationwide Voter Mobilization Campaign," National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, www.bigvote.org/content2004/pan_hellenic.html (September 23, 2004).

"Brown 50th Anniversary Education Equity Commission," NAACP, www.naacp.org/BvBE/helen-owens.shtml (September 29, 2004).

"Rose Hill Middle School," Jackson-Madison County School System, www.jmcss.net/rosehill (October 19, 2004).

Nancy Womack Johnson Family, www.womackfamily.com/nancy_johnson.htm (October 1, 2004).

Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., www.sgrho1922.org (September 29, 2004).

—Cheryl Dudley

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