Speaker helps women find a balance
BY ANA VECIANA-SUAREZ
It was grief that inspired Lorna Owens, grief that made her ask: Is this all there is?
Her father's sudden death from a stroke gave the Miami Beach resident a chance to examine where she had been and where she was going. Her conclusion: She wasn't where she wanted to be.
''People from all over came for my father's funeral and they talked about all these wonderful things he had done for them,'' she recalls. 'I thought, `they're never going to say this about me.' Until now it's always been about me, about me getting a degree, about me getting more education and a better job.''
So she returned home from Jamaica and changed her life. Gave up a lucrative law practice. Cut back on her work hours. And pursued her passion by opening a marketing and management company.
That was more than seven years ago, and Lorna Owens is still changing her life at 52. Her entertainment business, Positive Vibe Music and Positive Vibe Entertainment, has shifted to the background but a new and perhaps more compelling interest has taken its place. Now a motivational speaker and a life coach, she is busy organizing the annual ''And the Women Gather'' for March 19.
The first such gathering, in 2001, attracted 50 people. Last year's brought together more than 160. The Saturday program, titled ''Five Bestselling Authors at a Five-Star Hotel,'' is billed as a literary jazz brunch featuring literary luminaries she hopes will do more than provide inspiration.
`THIS ISN'T ABOUT WORKING'
''I want the women who come to laugh a lot,'' she says. ``This isn't about working or making contacts. It's about having fun.''
If past programs are any indication, the overwhelming majority of women who sign up for the event are professionals on the fast track. But Owens does not provide name tags nor does she necessarily encourage the exchange of business cards. If networking occurs -- and it inevitably does -- it's not her intent.
''These women,'' Owens says with assurance, ``don't want to be preached at, and they don't come here to talk about politics. They come to this to feel good.''
And, perhaps without knowing it, to give back. Proceeds from the event are divided between two charities: Women Behind Bars, a 90-day empowerment program for incarcerated women that Owens founded last year, and the Guild of Women Achievers, an international group that provides health care and health education to women laboring in India's sweatshops.
Giving back, in fact, is what Owens has been trying to do since the life-changing event of her father's death.
Over lunch at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, where the jazz brunch will be held, she speaks excitedly about Women Behind Bars. Two Tuesdays a month she rallies these jailed women to dream, to hope, to make changes in their own lives. It's a voluntary program but one she believes will give this needy population the necessary emotional tools to succeed outside of jail.
Another project she hopes to bring to fruition within the next year is Metamorphis, a full-service salon and day spa around Overtown and Liberty City. The trained staff will be composed of women from the neighborhood -- and formerly incarcerated women as well.
A spa, where?! people ask her.
`SHE GETS IT DONE'
But don't sell Owens short. Those who know her best say Owens thrives on the impossible.
'She'll call me up and say, `I'm going to do this,' and I tell her, 'You're kidding. Are you crazy?' '' says Maria Estevez. ``And guess what? She gets it done.''
Estevez, a lawyer, has know Owens for 14 years, since the two of them worked together under Janet Reno at the state attorney's office. She describes her friend as an adventurer, a woman not afraid of taking risks and making changes. But it is Owens' energy and spirituality, a belief that she must do right by her fellow man, that keeps her going when others would have quit, Estevez adds.
''Lorna is like a wind-up doll that never gives up,'' she says.
But that determination is tempered with a very big soft spot. Estevez tells of the time when her stepdaughter was pregnant and needed medical care the family could not afford. Owens, who had given up her nursing career to study law, took it upon herself to provide that care. ''No one asked her to,'' Estevez says. ``She just did.''
Rosie Gordon-Wallace, curator of the Diaspora Vibe Gallery on North Miami Avenue in the Design District, has known Owens since they were college students and has long admired Owens' ability to reinvent herself. ''She is a brilliant, brave, embracing, strong black woman,'' Gordon-Wallace says. ``I wish I had the funds to write her a check for all the things she wants to do.''
GROWING UP IN JAMAICA
Owens grew up in Mandeville, Jamaica, the eldest of four. Her father -- actually, the stepfather who raised her -- was a building contractor who was always doing for others. Their house was the largest in the small, rural town, and he eventually donated land and built the community a church that still stands. Though her parents had little more than a high school education, schooling was always emphasized. Owens attended the University of the West Indies for nursing and then, hoping for a promotion, went off to England to study midwifery.
Why nursing? ``Well, I wanted to be a lawyer but my mother told me that lawyers didn't go to heaven. I wanted to go to heaven.''
After a year of nursing in Jamaica, she landed a job in a Corpus Christi, Texas, hospital, then moved to Miami, where she took a job at Mercy Hospital, sight unseen. ''It was closer to Jamaica,'' she explains now with a laugh.
But two years into a job she loved, the learning bug bit again. She started a graduate nursing degree, then switched to international relations at Florida International University. The practice of law still beckoned, so off she went to law school at the University of Florida.
Following graduation, she stayed five years at the state attorney's office before opening her own practice. But though she handled some high-profile cases as a defense attorney, including a 1992 shootout at a North Dade restaurant, Owens still felt restless. That was about the time her father died, and she plunged into a new life.
Eventually change exacted a price. After investing -- and losing -- her life's savings in the launch of her entertainment business, Owens had to make do without. She sold her Jaguar and began riding the bus. While this might have turned into a bitter moment for someone else, Owens actually found it liberating.
Groups began asking her to speak about her experience, and she started organizing seminars and workshops about achieving success through a balanced lifestyle. She also took on clients -- mostly women -- who were referred to her by psychologists, women who wanted to know how to master the constant change in their lives. And, of course, there was always her charity work.
While all this does not provide the high-powered profile and the six-figure salary of her past, she remains very happy.
''I'm a totally different person,'' she says with a contented smile. ``But yes, there's a big disconnect between what my bank account says and the true measure of my joy.''
That doesn't bother her much, however. Sure, she misses going to the fine restaurants in cities all over the world -- one of her hobbies way back when -- but she believes she is nurtured in other ways.
'If my father were around, I think he would say, `Well done.' ''