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Keynote for JSU’s Metro Jackson Community Prevention Coalition event cheats death twice

Motivational speaker Dwight Owens describes how his life was changed after being struck head-on by a 72-year-old drunken driver in August 2005. The accident left him partially paralyzed. Still, “there’s plenty of life ahead for me,” he told an audience recently at a JSU Metro Jackson Community Prevention Coalition (MJCPC) event. (Photo by Darek Ashley/JSU)

Motivational speaker Dwight Owens, with Still Standing Consulting LLC, describes how his life was changed after being struck head-on by a 72-year-old drunken driver in August 2005. The accident left him partially paralyzed. Still, “there’s plenty of life ahead for me,” he told an audience recently at a JSU Metro Jackson Community Prevention Coalition (MJCPC) event. (Photo by Darek Ashley/JSU)

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Carroll Frazier, administrative assistant for JSU’s Center for University-Based Development, and Calvin Matthews, a retired deputy chief for JSU’s Department of Public Safety, were among the guests at the end-of-year celebration. (Photo by Darek Ashley/JSU)

Carroll Frazier, administrative assistant for JSU’s Center for University-Based Development, and Calvin Matthews, a retired deputy chief for JSU’s Department of Public Safety, were among the guests at the end-of-year celebration. (Photo by Darek Ashley/JSU)

During Metro Jackson Community Prevention Coalition’s (MJCPC) 28th Annual End-of-the-Year Celebration, motivational speaker Dwight Owens shared how he cheated death twice and challenged others to overcome their own obstacles.

A vehicle driven by Owens, a native of Collins, was struck head-on by a 72-year-old drunken driver in August 2005. The accident left Owens partially paralyzed and changed his life forever. He spent a year in the hospital fighting to survive and to regain motor functions through many hours of grueling rehab “that taught me there was still plenty of life ahead for me. There is no ‘dis’ in my ability. I have swag and am saved with amazing grace,” he said.

MJCPC provides age-appropriate, culturally relevant substance abuse prevention programs for youth and adults. It’s operated by JSU’s Office of Community Engagement and is funded by the Mississippi Department of Mental Health and the Mississippi Office of Highway Safety.

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Henry C. Thompson Jr., project director and principal investigator, for JSU’s MJCPC presents an award to Terry J. Bennett, an MJCPC prevention specialist. Bennett was honored with the Thomas J. Bennett Director’s Award named in honor of her late husband. (Photo by Darek Ashley/JSU)

BEFORE Owen’s keynote at the Jackson Medical Mall, MJCPC touted its many accomplishments over the year. These included training nearly 8,000 students at Jackson Public School with life skills and providing prevention education to nearly 15,000 participants, including 535 JSU students.

For next year, MJCPC aims to significantly reduce alcohol consumption for those under age 21 and deter binge drinking among JSU students.

Meanwhile, 36-year-old Owens of Still Standing Consulting LLC, spoke about his efforts to empower individuals undergoing hardships, addictions and other challenges. Through his organization he serves as a disability advocate and youth mentor. He also advocates for Americans With Disability.

In fact, his tragic crash was so serious that after he coded the second time doctors prepared to declare him brain dead. Miraculously, his life was restored, stunning the medical staff.

Then, more doubts surfaced as doctors believed Owens would exist only in a vegetative state. Once again, they would be proved wrong. On the contrary, Owens maneuvers around daily in a wheelchair speaking to many crowds. The crux of his message is about not being defeated and not being defined by circumstances.

“A lot of people don’t know how to deal with pain and adversity, but a lot of situations can make you wiser. So, turn your wounds into wisdom. Don’t let your circumstances paralyze you,” Owens advised. “Living in fear paralyzes you; shame paralyzes you; drugs and alcohol paralyze you.”

Bennett is congratulated by Heather A. Wilcox, director of JSU’s Center for University-Based Development, and her colleague Thompson. (Photo by Darek Ashley/JSU)

Bennett is congratulated by Heather A. Wilcox, director of JSU’s Center for University-Based Development, and her colleague Thompson. (Photo by Darek Ashley/JSU)

TERRY J. Bennett, prevention specialist for MJCPC, knows the harm of addictions because her husband recently died of lung cancer after years of smoking. She tried endlessly to sway him to quit. For a while in 2018, he was placed on life support. That time he survived. However, this summer, he succumbed but not before suffering the effects of his illness. “I tried to get him to stop smoking. He didn’t listen until it was too late,” she said.

“The more we can do to educate the public about prevention, the better the world would become,” Bennett said. “Our mission is to reduce alcohol, tobacco and other addictions. We focus heavily on educating students by letting them know they can have fun doing different activities without using harmful substances. We want to save lives.”

Bennett disclosed that her husband began smoking at 13 – the same age of some of the young people she addresses in various schools. “He didn’t stop until 46. Then, at age 48, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Among other things, this disease affects lungs, teeth and skin.”

Sadly, she said, “We have JSU students who don’t think anything is wrong with smoking marijuana. They simply see it as an herb made by God.” She said MJCPC will continue striving to help the community. “I know the information that I give them is correct. I got a chance to see It in my own life. I know it’s real,” Bennett said.

A guest listens as keynote speaker Owens shares his story of forgiveness and overcoming challenges. (Photo by Darek Ashley/JSU)

A guest listens as keynote speaker Owens shares his story of forgiveness and overcoming challenges. (Photo by Darek Ashley/JSU)

FOR her efforts, Bennett received the Thomas J. Bennett Director’s Award named in honor of her late husband. The award memorializes Thomas’ commitment to the community and MJCPC, and it recognizes his widow’s passion for providing prevention services. Terry has worked with MJCPC for more than 20 years.

After the presentation, Terry said, “It was truly an honor and a surprise to receive this prestigious award in honor of my beloved husband, Thomas J. Bennett. He loved what I do and would help me because he loved children and talking with any groups.”

Meanwhile, in his book “Still Standing,” motivational speaker Owens urges individuals to develop a positive outlook on life, and he discusses the strong support from his family. “Still Standing is a mindset,” he said.

TODAY, he challenges others to “take a look at your life, and take a chance and smile. Most importantly, address things in a biblical way. Don’t look backward; move forward. You may not be able to change what happened, but you can create a new story,” Owens said.

He recites Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you – plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Owens continued, “I love to empower people. Being hooked on drugs and alcohol, for example, can happen to anyone. Let your deepest pain become your greatest calling.”

Beyond that, he said another major therapeutic moment involves forgiveness – a virtue that is difficult for many people, especially when their lives have been shattered.

However, Owens reasoned that “when we choose not to forgive we punish ourselves.” Despite his own situation, his faith prompted him to ask the judge to grant leniency to the man found guilty of the crime that left him paralyzed. The judge obliged by reducing the man’s sentence.

“I’ve learned that we have to let our wounds heal from people who hurt us. Every single one of us experience some type of pain. Unfortunately, many people take their wounds to the grave. There’s not a man alive who can take my joy away from me. I own it,” Owens said.

Chauncy Wright, community outreach coordinator for MJCPC, listens intently as the speaker urges the audience to avoid being defined by their circumstances. (Photo by Darek Ashley/JSU)

Chauncy Wright, community outreach coordinator for MJCPC, listens intently as the speaker urges the audience to avoid being defined by circumstances. (Photo by Darek Ashley/JSU)