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James J. Owens Wins The Benjamin E. Mays Medal

Updated: Aug 25, 2020

Awarded by Bates college for distinguished service to the larger (worldwide) community

The Benjamin E. Mays Medal

The Benjamin E. Mays Medal award was established during Mays’ lifetime, and he was the inaugural recipient of the award in 1982. It the highest alumni award of the college and is presented to an alumna or alumnus who has performed distinguished service to the larger (worldwide) community and been deemed a Bates graduate of outstanding accomplishment. It is an occasional award that has been presented only 17 times.

In 2018, Alumni Association President Lisa Romeo ’88 presented the award to James Owens ’87 during Reunion Weekend. Inspired by the transformative power of reading, James Owens set out in 2012 to create an anthology that would ultimately take him on a 15-year life-altering journey. Published in 2017, The World Is Just a Book Away weaves together the unique stories of 60 contributors — from Nobel laureates to actors, humanitarians, and many more — who at first glance have little in common. But as James skillfully demonstrates, these prominent people all share something important: their lives have been influenced by a love of books and reading.

It was during this passion project that James was inspired to not only write about the power of literacy, but also to physically deliver it to those who need it most. In 2008, he founded a non-profit organization dedicated to creating the next generation of strong leaders through literacy and education programs in underdeveloped nations. Sharing its name with the title of his anthology, The World Is Just a Book Away builds libraries in countries that have large orphan populations as a result of devastating natural disasters. In the nine years since its inception, The World Is Just a Book Away has built 90 libraries, three of which are mobile. At one site in Indonesia, books are delivered by horseback to 10 remote schools atop a volcano. This revolutionary approach is effecting meaningful change within some of the world’s most vulnerable communities.

The World Is Just A Book Away received the Independent Publisher Book Award for Most Original Concept in 2018. All profits from the sale of the book will go to supporting the organization of the same name.

From those devastated by natural disaster in Indonesia to people afflicted by major social and economic upheaval in Mexico, James Owens’ work has improved the lives of over 70,000 children by providing the next generation with the tools, skills, and resources they need to face the challenges of today’s complex world. James exemplifies the Bates touchstones of informed civic action and the cultivation of intellectual discovery. It is my honor to present the Benjamin Elijah Mays Medal to James Owens, Class of 1987.


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