Rudy Owens is a Detroit native who grew up in the Midwest and attended public schools in University City, Missouri, just outside of St. Louis. He spent much of his adult life living in the West Coast states of Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. He has a professional background in communications, international relations, and public health. He earned a master’s degree in from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in journalism and a masters in public health degree from the University of Washington School of Public Health.
As a writer and photographer, Owens has travelled around the world and throughout the United States. His photographs on issues from human rights to life in contemporary Greenland to community supported agriculture have appeared in the New York Times and in numerous publications and as one-man photo shows in Portland, Seattle, and Anchorage. He continues to work on photojournalism projects about America’s heartland, most recently on the economic struggles and decline of the two great American industrial cities he has called home—St. Louis and Detroit.
For several years, Owens worked as a reporter in California and Oregon, and later as a writer and editor in Santiago, Chile. Owens’ professional work for Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade at its consulates and Anchorage and Seattle took him widely throughout the Pacific Northwest and to nearly every corner of Alaska. Owens also worked in community-based public health in Washington State. He currently lives in Portland. There he continues to pursue photo-documentary projects in the Pacific Northwest.
Owens publishes two popular blogs that combine his passions for photography, history, public health, and policy. Whatbeautifullight.com highlights original photographic work and essays. Rudyowensblog.com features essays on the intersections of public health, current affairs, organizational behavior, history, politics, and more. His lively writing on topics as diverse as the persecution of Egypt’s Coptic Christians to the effectiveness of community health fairs have attracted readers from around the world. His policy blog includes his many essays documenting discrimination against adoptees and the public-health harm caused by laws that deny adoptees equal rights to their birth records and medical history.
As an adoptee who successfully found his birth families in 1989 and obtained his original birth records, Owens has advocated for decades that all adoptees and birth parents are entitled to equal treatment under the law. His search for his records and biological kin revealed how adoptees in seeking their true records still face opposition from friends, family, laws, Christian organizations, and many institutions. His experiences with the state of Michigan and its vital records staff, the Wayne County Probate Court, and his former adoption agency demonstrated how adoptees are denied basic legal rights granted to all other citizens.
Owens’ lifelong journey to answer life’s basic question, “Who am I,” inspired him to show how millions of adoptees and birth parents still face prejudice rooted in historic stereotypes and biological mechanisms that show “blood is thicker than water.” Fear and stigma of illegitimacy and bastardy have long harmed single mothers and historically caused the early deaths of countless bastard children throughout history. Owens proudly calls himself the “Bastard from Detroit.” The name honors his true identity and the countless victims of often-lethal historic discrimination against so-called “illegitimate” humans. Owens strongly believes there is no such thing as an illegitimate person.