Geoffrey Owens — An average ‘Joe’ pays major honor

ABC’s co-host Robin Roberts, left, with “The Cosby Show” actor Geoffrey Owens during an interview on “Good Morning America,” Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2018, in New York.
Paula Lobo / ABC via Associated Press

Three cheers and hip-hip hoorays for a decent, hard-working American, Black man who is now being publicly lauded for his stand-up, stand-out response to a New Jersey woman who did not consider the consequences of her action when she photographed and published images of him toiling at work in a grocery store.

Instead of returning rebuke for her dastardly deed, Geoffrey Owens, the subject and predicate of her action, responded with civility to present a case for every citizen who works to support their families regardless of the stigma some may place as to its low-level prestige.

“There is no job that’s better than another job,” he said. “It might pay better, it might have better benefits, it might look better on a resume and on paper. But actually, it’s not better. Every job is worthwhile and valuable.”

“I’d been teaching acting and directing for 30-plus years but it just got to a point where it didn’t add up enough,” Owens reportedly said.

Due to losses from income stalled by allegations and criminal charges levied against the star of the “Cosby Show” after network syndication stopped when the show was pulled from rerun airings, the absence of residual checks caused depletion of the family budget.

Owens did not prevent the camera-ready Karma Lawrence from snapping a picture of him when he worked in a Clifton, New Jersey Trader Joe’s outlet.

Little did he know she would use the photo as a denigrating source of shame to inform national and international medium.

Nor did she imagine the groundswell of support that erupted after her photo appeared in the British Daily Mail and Fox News.

Call it karma, call it what you will, after the photograph ran with a damning cutline retracing Owens’ storied work history of working in the spotlight of a hit television series on the TV show to join the ranks of the working class as a bagger in a grocery store, public opinion reversed its aim.

Instead of chorusing a hymn about falling from grace, conscientious social media readers, celebrities, actors and influential individuals in the entertainment industry lauded the working father for earning an honest living.

The shamer was shamed.

A backlash went viral with repudiation from individuals incensed by the invasion of privacy.

Lawrence said she felt regretful remorseful and even cried.

Reportedly, the overwhelmingly hateful responses from strangers forced her to shut down her social media account.

Her excuse was that she meant no “ill will.”

“I don’t know why I snuck a picture. I figured everybody does it. I don’t know what possessed me. I just did it. I didn’t even think about it. I just kind of did it on impulse and it was a bad impulse,” Lawrence said.

“And if I could take it back, I would.”

But this column is not about an impulsive woman.

It’s about Owens and also about commercial media acknowledging and extending the reach of the story by outing the identity of the employee who in fact is an educated, principled, ambitious, determined, relentless, father, husband and hardworking Black man living in America.

Owens portrayed Elvin Tibideaux, a recurring character on the popular situation, comedy show for five seasons.

With that said, Owens’ finest hours may have been his sophomore year at Yale University where he taught acting to undergraduates.

Another might have been seeing his father, former U.S. Congressman Major Owens being elected to represent Brooklyn from the very same district that made national news when predecessor Cong. Shirley Chisholm became the first of her race to win the seat.

His dad was only the second to claim the honor.

How proud a son must have felt as a youngster knowing that legislation his father introduced could make an impact on the entire nation.

How cool that must have felt to be the congressman’s son.

History has documented the accomplishments of Congressman Major Owens.

I was privileged to travel to Jamaica with him after a hurricane devastated parts of the island.

The legislator visited many schools and institutions and offered help to families of casualties.

On returning he gave me a congressional seal and offered me much of his time to talk about the state of the nation.

During those conversations it was clear to me that the Democratic representative to the United States Congress related to and cared about the concerns of the average Joe.

He had graduated from Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University.

He indelibly carved his own niche carrying the baton after taking it — when she retired — from Cong. Shirley Chisholm, the first Black American to represent Brooklyn’s 11th CD.

However, the young Owens did not seem to rely on his father’s legacy, he too graduated from a prestigious institution, as a matter of fact he achieved excellence earning status by obtaining distinction of cum laude from Yale in 1983.

Following that he taught at Primary Stages and Columbia University and honed a career as an actor.

He won roles on Broadway—most recently in 2013, in “Romeo and Juliet” and featured in a number of TV shows including “The Affair.”

The fact he is an accomplished thespian while not at the center of attention did not shy away from a cell phone camera but pursued his job with dignity.

Representative of an example all should strive.

The upside to his ever-evolving story is that after seeing national news reports of his story was contacted by media mogul Tyler Perry who offered him a recurring role in his hit series “The Haves And The Have Nots.”

Owens will be featured in 10 episodes of the popular television hit.

Added to that Owens has been tapped for acting roles in the popular crime series “NCIS: New Orleans.”

Who would have imagined that after a not-so-well-intentioned woman went to extremes to belittle the man she imagined had hit on hard times would be bagging more than groceries but a pay hike?

Although a few actors – Sonny Bono, Arnold Schwartznegger, Clint Eastwood — have capitalized on their public image in order to elevate their profile by becoming politicians, a recent election process here revealed some of the difficulties an actor could encounter while trying to transition to becoming governor of this state.

Not “all that glitter is gold” should be the mantra for many who fade from view after enjoying successful, high visibility careers.

This is one that reversed itself.

Owens said he hopes that his experience will enlighten others about “what it means to work, the honor of the working person…the dignity of work.”

And amidst all the platitudes showered on Owens during his recent TV appearance he gave a big shout-out to all the baggers he worked with at Trader Joe’s. This act of acknowledgement underlines the bequeathed decency he probably inherited from his father during the terms he served as a politician from 1993 to 2007 before retiring.

Not only did he honor his deceased father but also doled out life-lessons to clueless, classless individuals whose practice is not lifting up but looking down on perceived downtrodden.

Once again to Geoffrey Owens and others of his ilk, three cheers and a big hip, hip hooray.

Catch You On The Inside!

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