The award, which acknowledges those who have made outstanding contributions to the improvement and development of their community, was presented to Owens for his leadership in fighting racial discrimination in both his profession and society.
His research and creative contributions include his being regarded as a prominent photography archivist of African-American professionals in health, physical education and recreation, sports and entertainment.
Owens joined the NIU faculty in 1973 and, in addition to teaching, served as head baseball coach and assistant basketball coach during his tenure. His involvement also included being chair of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Minorities and participating as a member of the Task Force on Racial Discrimination and Sexual Harassment.
Prior to working at NIU, Owens earned a B.S. and M.A. from Western Michigan University. He taught and coached sports at Detroit public schools and high schools, winning multiple city, district and state baseball and basketball championships.
He was a board member of the National Congress of Black Faculty as well as a member of the Illinois Committee on Black Concerns in Higher Education.
He also played in the Negro Leagues for two years from 1953 to 1955.
In June 2008, Major League Baseball conducted a Special Negro Leagues Player Draft in which the Chicago Cubs selected Owens with the fifth pick in the first round. Furthermore, in September of 2010, he was inducted into the first class of the Detroit Negro Slow-Pitch Softball League Hall of Fame.