THE ST. JOHN'S PLACE POST OFFICE - 11213
Dedicated to the late U.S. Congressman, Hon. Major Robert Odell Owens, on Friday, June 28, 2019
REMARKS DELIVERED BY HON. CHRIS OWENS
I stand here as one representative of the blended families of the late Congressman Major Owens. Elijah has introduced you to those of us who are here, including the spirit of my late wife. I would like to share the regrets of my youngest brother, who is stuck on the other side of our nation. He will get a full report. Our mother, Ethel, is now in her 97th year and could not leave her nursing home today. She remains proud of the Congressman’s legacy – including the three sons.
Most unfortunately, the great love of my father’s life, Maria, could not be here today and she is heartbroken. Maria recently lost her mother and members of her immediate family are also facing some health issues at this time. Many of us have heard the expression, your health is everything. Well, our health is everything to everyone and our family is no different from any other.
As my son indicated earlier, being here today and participating in this moment is a privilege and an honor. So let me start by thanking those who made this possible.
First and foremost, Congressmember Yvette Clarke – We have been friends for a long time. You attended Sandra and my wedding, and you were there at Sandra’s memorial. We were political rivals once, but we both continue to believe in the value of public service – and we remain friends. Thank you for recognizing greatness and for honoring the legacy of your predecessor, my late father, and for convincing your colleagues to do the same.
To the United States Postal Service, I also express our family’s deepest gratitude. You know the admiration my father had for the work you do, and for all the people who do it. As a Committee member, he championed you. As a fan of organized labor, he championed the workers. The time and effort you have put into making this day special have been tremendous – and are greatly appreciated.
To the people of Brooklyn, of the old 11th and 12th Congressional Districts, of the social justice movements, and of zip code 11213 – thank you for being the most important parts of Major Owens’ life and for remembering him. I am happy to say that our family is moving forward with other ways to have the Congressman’s legacy remain strong and remain a powerful education tool.
After all, Major Owens was the quiet man from Brooklyn who believed in the great equalizing power of education. If he were standing before us, simultaneously proud, humble and grateful, he would be educating us -- reminding us that our ability to connect with each other and exchange information is what has enabled human beings to be the dominant species on this planet – for better or for worse.
My father would remind us that, after being invented and developed by the Egyptians, Chinese and Mongols, Persians, and Indians, the Cursus Publicus of ancient Rome – the greatest postal system of the age – was instrumental in building the greatest empire of the age. People needed to be connected.
The Major would remind us that the truly democratic and sophisticated postal service we know today was started in 1775 by the 2nd Continental Congress, and that it was instrumental in building the powerful nation we live in today. People needed to be connected.
And my father would remind us that he actually predicted that that electronic age would change communication of all types – and change our very humanity. And I think we all would agree that his prophecy has been fulfilled. I, for one, remember when Dad lectured me in the car on the way home from events or campaign work. He saluted the power of ideas; he stated that those who control the ideas would be the most powerful people on the earth; and he waxed eloquent on the evils of privatizing those services that should be truly owned by all of the people. People needed to be connected.
Those of you fortunate enough to have access to C-SPAN and to witness the Congressman’s 60-minute Special Order speeches on Tuesday nights know that he had no problem with elocution – and it was often extemporaneous. All of us also remember the Major’s “Egghead Raps” and his second nickname, The Rapping Congressman. He was not afraid to explore new media to get his progressive political messages across.
I do have to say, however, that he and I did debate whether or not his raps were really raps, or early versions of spoken word – a wonderful art form that does not rely on a consistent beat or consistent rhymes. Interpret that as you will!
And those of you fortunate enough to have read my father’s fascinating case study of the Congressional Black Caucus, entitled “The Peacock Elite,” more fully understand the high standards that the Congressman set for himself and his peers as public servants and as representatives of America’s populations of African descent.
Allow me to quote my father from Chapter 1 of “The Peacock Elite”:
“African Americans, a people emerging from years of oppression with numerous obstacles and hurdles still in their pathways, must adopt the position that the stakes are very high and therefore each leader requires an intense scrutiny. Blacks are still hampered by a political and economic deficit that is very real; and the struggle to overcome does not take place in the absence of competing combatants. There is a virile confederate mindset still widespread in America. Each Black leader must be viewed as a warrior in a continuing cold civil rights war.” End quote.
How sadly prophetic these words proved to be. Today, Congressman Major Owens would be celebrating the old dog / new dog fights, the big dog / little dog battles, and the wave of mobilization that is taking place across our nation. But he would also say that the recent price we paid to get here is too high – one more devastating than any tariff on Chinese goods. He would look at the political events of the last three nights and remind us all that sometimes unity must trump family squabbles.
The Major would remind us that the only way we shall overcome is if we are unafraid to walk hand in hand and find the righteous path we had started down in 2008, taking the different shades of ideas and the different personalities with us.
My father was pro-people and pro-peace, and he saw the African-American struggle for economic and political equality as the forum for his work. He would remind us that those who suffer do not have the luxury of standing on nuances that divide us – and never did. And he would concur with those who say that winning is everything. I know because I listened to him as he lay dying, and he expressed much frustration with the slow pace of change. And my father died three years before the disastrous election of 2016.
Congressman Major Owens was the man who wanted us to be connected and empowered, and who insisted on “the plan.” So, when you hear that the website entitled “Remember the Major dot com” has been launched, please visit that site right away and sign up to strengthen the legacy. That’s part of the plan. When you hear the call to support the renaming of Eastern Parkway to the Major Owens Parkway, or the renaming of a high school as the Congressman Major Owens Campus, please respond with your voice or your signature, or both. Those are also parts of the plan.
When you walk into the Brooklyn Public Library’s Grand Army Plaza branch and see the acknowledgement of Major Owens’ service as a librarian, share a salute. That’s part of the plan, because Brooklyn’s schoolchildren need to know who stood up for them – who brought technology to their schools and millions of additional dollars in Title 1 funds while voting against national budgets that put military expenditures before the needs of the people.
And when you walk by this Post Office for zip code 11213, remind your friends and family members – particularly the children – of who the late, great Congressman Major Robert Odell Owens was and what he stood for. That is the first part of “The Plan.”
Again, thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
God Bless You!