CHICAGO — After Bronzeville community organizer Johnnie Owens was shot to death in a brazen home invasion last week, his widow remembers his extraordinary life through the relationships he built.
Owens was often referred to as a community organizer, but was really a gardener, a man who planted seeds and loved to watch them grow.
Rosalyn Owens, his wife, said he was tirelessly dedicated to his craft. She said she knew he was the one when they suggested they foster parents for two twin boys just a few months after beginning dating.
“He took to the babies. I didn’t have to quit my job, he just moved in because he was taking care of the babies,” Owens said.
Johnnie Owens was shot on August 17 when a man broke into his Hazel Crest home.
“It’s hard, my husband was a good man and for something like this to happen, the boldness of it, you know I’m not trying to focus on that,” Owens said.
The 65-year-old began his career as an organizer working with a young Barack Obama. Owens as a guest at the Obamas’ wedding, and was mentioned in the former President’s first book, ‘Dreams from my Father.’
In the book, Obama praised his boundless curiosity and called him ‘a philosopher of the blues.’
“They were close, yes. We weren’t together during that time but he told me stories,” Owens said.
Johnnie Owens earned a Master’s Degree in urban geography from Chicago State University and was also a master griller, renowned for his touch with steaks and ribs.
Owens brought his passion for food to Bronzeville when he founded the Bronzeville Neighborhood Garden in 2016, working to teach the community how to nurture itself.
Rosalyn Owens said she wants to keep the garden in Bronzeville, and has organized a GoFundMe to help raise funds to maintain it.