Where Are They Now? Shepard grad Sam Owens making a difference
By Pat Disabato firstname.lastname@example.org June 25, 2013 7:50PM
S.L. (left) and Sam Owens | Supplied photo
Updated: July 27, 2013 6:07AM
It was at age 13, before becoming a three-sport athlete at Shepard High School, when Sam Owens realized the path he wanted to take in life — with some guidance from his mother.
“I was an energetic, rambunctious young boy who always had something to say,” Owens, 30, recalled. “I had a way of pleading my case. Growing up, Calumet Park was transitioning into a pretty tough neighborhood. I was never the biggest kid, but I was tough and one of the smarter kids. My mom said to me one day, ‘You could bully people or you could put your skills to work helping people reach their goals.’
“That’s when I decided to take that skill set along with my desire to give people a voice and get into law.”
The 2000 graduate of Shepard, where he earned All-Area honors on the football field, Owens is managing attorney for Merchant Insurance Brokerage, LLC, in Madison, Wis., a company he founded after graduating law school from the University of Wisconsin.
Owens figured a career as an attorney, while staying true to the values and principles he developed from growing up in the Southland, was the best way to make a difference in society.
“As an attorney, I can engage in intense debates and intellectual discourse on a daily basis,” Owens said. “I focus on labor and employment law and civil rights laws. I do a lot of workman’s compensation and discrimination cases.”
He also volunteers a considerable amount of time and expertise to worthwhile causes. It’s a trait — giving back — his parents, Larry and Charmaine Owens, instilled in him when he was a child.
Owens serves on numerous boards, such as the Gay Straight Alliance for Safe Schools in Madison; the St. Mary’s Foundation serving St. Mary’s Hospital; the Madison Network of Black Professionals; and Dane County Foreclosure Prevention Task Force.
Owens’ passion for education, public interest work and foreign cultures has afforded him opportunities to travel abroad to South Africa and Ethiopia.
Those experiences led to him consulting for the United States government’s Fulbright Program for an operational capacity study of sports-based intervention programs in South Africa, and One Voice/South Africa to design applied research for assessment of youth-based HIV/AIDS intervention, sexual reproductive health and human/gender right programing.
He also serves as a consultant for the University of Chicago’s Public Interest Program.
“It’s very important for me to do work that creates opportunities for other people,” said Owens, who graduated junior high from Salem Lutheran School in Blue Island.
Owens played football, basketball and baseball at Shepard. It was his prowess on the football field, though, that earned him a spot on Shepard’s Wall of Fame.
During his senior season, Owens, just 5-foot-9, 163 pounds, rarely left the field, lining up at running back, defensive back and kick returner. While he nearly gained 1,000 yards as the Astros primary rusher (969 yards), it was his ability to return kicks that showcased his skills.
Owens returned nine kicks for 444 yards — a school-record — including a pair for touchdowns.
“We didn’t have many successful seasons,” said Owens, who in May was inducted into Shepard’s Distinguished Alumni Wall of Fame. “We were so challenged in numbers (players). We had to work harder to have a shot at competing.
“Saturdays after a Friday night game were a recovery period for most teams. At Shepard, it was about conditioning and hitting the track. There was a high level of competitiveness each week on that track, no matter how poorly we performed on Friday. Myself, Josh Remer and Reginald Cotton, we would be on that track trying to get as close as we could to that 4-minute mile. It was an all-out competition. It’s a principle I wanted to take in my life.”
It’s a principle — striving for excellence — he carried into the classroom.
Owens ranked in the top 10 of a class of 438, which, along with his athletic skills, opened the doors to multiple opportunities at high-level colleges.
“Sam was an excellent student-athlete, the epitome of student-athlete,” Shepard boys basketball coach Tony Chiuccariello said. “He was a fierce competitor and was well loved in the school.”
Upon graduating from Shepard, Owens attended the University of Chicago, where he thrived in the classroom, earning an economics degree, and on the football field, ranking sixth all-time in rushing yards (1,809) and ninth all-time in all-purpose yards (2,315) for the Maroons.
There were unforeseen obstacles, however, to overcome.
“It was an adventure,” Owens said. “There was a stigma around black athletes I never imagined. It was different than Shepard. Shepard had a learning environment and the teachers were very welcoming and inclusive to everyone. It allowed me to reach my full potential. Shepard invested in my full development. It was different in college.”
Owens and his wife, S.L., are focusing on expanding their nonprofit company, Quantum Metric Innovation, which is a service provider for other nonprofits.
His success as an attorney is what allows Quantum to flourish.
“We’re going to continue to focus on the fundamental empowerment of my family,” said Owens, who played youth football for the Cal Park Rams. “Not for the sake of being wealthy; but for making change happen. You need finances to better help people.
“I want to finance my own ideas and be able to finance other peoples’ ideas. To empower people to become entrepreneurs and help them establish their own businesses. Those who are in a difficult socioeconomic environment. Making money is not the end. It’s the means.”
“Where Are They Now?” is an occasional series catching up with former Southland athletes and coaches. Suggestions for future stories can be emailed to email@example.com.