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President's Corner: February 2019

We are in the midst of Black History Month, celebrating the contributions and legacy of African-American heroes both locally and nationally. At Old Dominion University, we believe that work should continue year-round, so it's fitting that we recently broke ground on a building that will provide permanent recognition of a local giant.

Hugo A. Owens House, where about 470 students will live when it opens in the fall of 2020, memorializes a civil rights pioneer who also served in the early '90s as a member of our Board of Visitors and our first African-American rector.

He was steadfast in his pursuit of equal rights. In 1950, Dr. Owens sued the city of Portsmouth to integrate its parks after he and a daughter were forced to leave one of them by a groundskeeper. A dentist, Dr. Owens later helped desegregate the city's libraries and what was then Portsmouth General Hospital.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once asked Dr. Owens to move to Atlanta to help him with his civil rights agenda, but Dr. Owens believed his life and work were rooted in Hampton Roads.

In 1970, Dr. Owens was one of the first two African-Americans elected to Chesapeake's City Council. He later served as the city's vice mayor for eight years.

Dr. Owens, who died in 2008 at the age of 92, impressed me as a quiet man of humility, dignity and kindness. He treated all people he came in contact with, no matter their title, with openness and respect.

Hugo Owens House, on 49th Street near Powhatan Avenue, will have five floors. I think Dr. Owens would appreciate not only its residential amenities, but also its academic features. This living-learning community will be geared to students from the cybersecurity, entrepreneurial and STEM-H areas and will include two classrooms, a cyber lab, a learning commons, and study areas in both wings of every floor.

In addition to naming the residence hall for Dr. Owens, we plan to display a plaque and a timeline of his life accomplishments. That will ensure that future generations learn of his impact in Hampton Roads.

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