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New Jersey Rep. Donald Payne's Service Fondly Remembered By Many

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By Gregory McDale, Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper –

Following New Jersey Congressman Donald M. Payne’s death, several friends and colleagues reflected on his outstanding legacy and tireless service in the U.S. and abroad.

“Today serves as a reminder to all of us who are blessed to serve the people of our communities, that the time we have on this earth can end much too fast, and that we must constantly be working to improve the lives of those around us,” U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said in a statement. “My good friend Donald Payne made that his goal each and every day of his life.”

Rep. Payne lost his battle to colon cancer and died on March 6 at St. Barnabas Hospital in Livingston. According to the Associated Press, he was flown to Jersey from Georgetown University Hospital on March 2 after his health had starkly declined.

A Newark native, Payne knew early on that he wanted to make a difference in many peoples’ lives. According to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, he once said, “I want to be a Congressman to serve as a role model for the young people I talk to on the Newark street corners. I want them to see there are no barriers to achievement. I want to give them a reason to try.”

After serving as a public school teacher, he later became a member of the Newark City Council in 1988. Shortly thereafter, he made history when he became New Jersey’s first Black Congressional member. He represented New Jersey’s 10th District, which includes Newark and parts of Essex, Union and Hudson counties. In 2010, he was elected into his 12th term.

While serving on the U.S. House of Representatives Education and Workforce Committee, Payne worked tirelessly to improve the lives of children and working families. He provided equitable funding for public schools and worked to make healthcare more affordable. He also worked on the House’s Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa and traveled abroad to provide humanitarian aid.

“By any standard, Don lived a full and meaningful life,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. He was a leader in US-Africa policy, making enormous contributions towards helping restore democracy and human rights across the continent. ”

Payne served as the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) in 1995 and held this position for one year. In 2010, he was elected chair of the CBC Foundation.

The CBCF said in a statement that Payne brought a wealth of knowledge to the organization and brought a unique perspective to everything he did. “We have lost a tireless public servant who embodied humanity, compassion and dignity for all,” the CBCF said. “[We] will carry on his mission to work for justice and opportunity for all.”

Former Maryland Congressman Kweisi Mfume says that Payne helped him win his election as chairman of the CBC. He explained that their 20-year friendship was filled with memories of traveling the world to assist those in need.

“Don Payne was a friend–that’s the real bottom line,” Mfume told the AFRO. “When people take a look at his life I hope they come to understand that he loved his work and he did so much to represent not only the people of New Jersey but people across the globe. He was passionate about what he believed in and he always believed that tomorrow would be better than today. I’m going to miss him.”

Payne is survived by three children and four grandchildren. Funeral arrangements had not been announced at AFRO press time.

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