At the Annual Awards Dinner and Presentation, a highlight of SPN’s 29th Annual Meeting, State Policy Network honored Justin Owen of the Beacon Center of Tennessee with the 2021 Thomas A. Roe Award.
Named after State Policy Network’s founder, Thomas A. Roe, the award pays tribute to those in the state public policy movement whose achievements have greatly advanced free-market philosophy and policy solutions. It recognizes leadership, innovation, and accomplishment in public policy.
A native Tennessean, Justin started his career as an intern at the Beacon Center, left to pursue a law degree, and returned to Beacon as a policy director—to later lead the organization as president and CEO in 2010.
Early on in his career, Justin recognized the importance of building relationships in order to advance meaningful policy reforms. Engaging with the community not only gives you allies and partners, it allows you to have a deeper understanding of policies that need reform and the people affected by those policies. With Justin’s guidance, Beacon became more intentional about building relationships with the people they serve. Thanks to this focus, Beacon has seen several policy wins and succeeded in making policy reform a community effort—one that involves the people whose lives and opportunities will benefit the most from positive change.
One of those wins helped hundreds of women more easily earn a living and provide for their families. In 2019, Beacon befriended local hair braiders who faced burdensome licensing fees and requirements in order to start their business. Beacon partnered with these women to pass the “Hair Braiding Freedom Act,” legislation that removes the licensing requirement to braid hair. Since the law passed, hundreds of new hair braiders have been able to find work and serve their communities.
The ability to connect with fellow Tennesseans is ingrained in Justin since he can often relate to the people Beacon is working to help. He knows what it’s like to struggle, having grown up on a rural farm with a single mom on welfare.
“To talk and spend time with the people we work with is by far the most rewarding part of my job,” said Justin.
Justin believes that people will flourish if government barriers are out of their way. It’s this belief that drives Justin and the rest of the Beacon team to eliminate those barriers so all Tennesseans can flourish.
As president and CEO of the Beacon Center, Justin has also stressed the importance of building coalitions to reach policy goals—even with non-traditional allies.
This mentality brought the Beacon Center and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) together to reform Tennessee’s criminal justice system and civil asset forfeiture laws. Justin looks beyond partisan politics to find solutions to the problems ailing the state—and this attitude is yielding great returns for not only the Beacon Center, but the state of Tennessee.
Under his strong leadership, the organization has quadrupled their budget and secured several important policy wins for Tennessee families. These wins include passing Tennessee’s first ever school choice program, repealing an income tax that saved taxpayers $300 million per year, and protecting right-to-work in the state constitution. Justin and his team at the Beacon Center are making Tennessee one of the best states to live and work, and the rest of the country is taking note. Beacon’s success can serve as a model for other states.
After receiving the Roe Award, Justin remarked:
“It is the honor of my career to receive the Roe Award. SPN has been a major influence in my life and an even bigger influence on Beacon’s record of success in improving the lives of Tennesseans. It means so much to me to receive an award named after SPN’s founder and the visionary of our thriving network. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.”
Congratulations, Justin! It is inspiring to see your leadership and dedication to improving lives in Tennessee.