Heroes Who Walk Beside Us: Congressman Donald Payne, Jr.

Occasionally, we encounter individuals whose impact on our lives feels genuinely heroic. Though it’s been some time since I last wrote a “Heroes Who Walk Beside Us” feature, the moment is right to spotlight someone exceptional—Congressman Donald M. Payne, Jr. Although he is a man of great title, prestige, and accomplishment. He walks with us all, as a humble servant of people.

The Man Behind the Title 

Donald M. Payne, Jr. is more than just a congressman; he embodies humor, wit, intelligence, humility, legislative prowess, and impeccable style. As a husband, father, son, and friend, his humble demeanor reveals his upbringing. One of his cherished stories is about his father firing him from a job, which led him to collaborate with union leadership to reclaim it. This event instilled in him lessons about responsibility and the significance of organized labor. These values deeply influence him, ensuring he never takes his role or responsibilities lightly. Unlike many politicians who chase empty headlines, Payne, Jr. focuses on diligent work in Washington, making tangible impacts without always seeking the limelight. While his personality is humble, his fashion is not. Bright colors, bow ties, matching socks and glasses is what you see when Congressman Payne, Jr. walks into a room. Always dressed to the nines. During campaign time, you can see him sporting a “RUN DMP” shirt, a witty play on the popular hip-hop group RUN DMC.

A Legacy of Public Service 

Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, Donald M. Payne, Jr. has committed his life to public service. From the Newark Municipal Council to the Essex County Board of Freeholders, his dedication to his community is evident. Elected to Congress in 2012 after his father’s passing, who was the first black Congressperson from New Jersey, Congressman Payne, Jr. continues the family legacy of serving New Jersey’s 10th Congressional District with distinction. Out of 535 federal legislators, fewer than 40 are black men, and Congressman Payne, Jr. proudly stands among them.

A Champion for Health Care Equity 

Congressman Payne, Jr.’s notable contributions include his work in diabetes awareness and healthcare equity. Drawing from personal understanding, he has been actively working to reduce the costs of life-saving prescription drugs for all Americans. He co-sponsored the Lower Drug Costs Now Act (H.R. 3), aiming to address high medication prices. Championing legislation to cap prescription drug prices, he addresses issues like overpriced medications and insulin rationing. His commitment to healthcare is not just legislative; it’s personal as he himself battles diabetes. Congressman Payne, Jr. understands the burden of high drug costs and advocates for better access to affordable medications. He also supports the Affordable Care Act, introduced the TEST for Lead Act to protect children from lead-contaminated water, and advocates for cancer prevention and screening. As Co-Chair of the Men’s Health Caucus, Congressman Payne, Jr. further advocates for men’s health issues, reflecting his commitment to improving healthcare affordability and accessibility for all.

Leadership Roles 

In 2021, Congressman Payne, Jr. was elected Chairman of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials in the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. This committee oversees national infrastructure and all transportation modes, including aviation and mass transit.

Infrastructure Advocacy and Emergency Preparedness and Response 

As Chairman, Congressman Payne, Jr. has advocated for critical infrastructure projects like the Gateway Project, securing a $900 million appropriation. Serving on the House Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recovery, he introduced two bills signed into law by President Barack Obama. The Department of Homeland Security Interoperable Communications Act of 2015, one such bill, ensures reliable communication for DHS personnel during emergencies. He also advocated for securing public areas of transportation facilities, such as airports, incorporated into the FAA Reauthorization Act.

Gun Violence Prevention 

Congressman Payne, Jr. introduced the Safer Neighborhoods Gun Buyback Act of 2019, aiming to incentivize firearm trade-ins for prepaid cards, contributing to addressing community gun violence.

Speaking Truth to Power 

In 2023, Congressman Payne, Jr.’s impactful speeches on crucial topics earned him all four 2023 quarterly John Lewis Awards. He opposes Trumpism while defending democracy, advocates for women’s and voting rights, and highlights remarkable constituents from his 10th Congressional District. He never forgets those he serves.

Dedicated to Global Issues 

Following his father’s legacy, Congressman Payne, Jr. raises awareness about eradicating terrorist groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria. Collaborating with groups from the black diaspora, he advocates for international human rights. His efforts to improve federal emergency response to global natural disasters, especially after Hurricane Maria’s devastation in Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands, have been noteworthy.

First Responders 

Congressman Payne, Jr. actively participates in a coalition led by Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka and I to prevent firefighter deaths, notably in response to the tragic 2023 Port of Newark incidents. He also leads in federal efforts to secure grant access for first responders.

A Man of Many Talents 

Before his political career, Congressman Payne, Jr. founded the Newark South Ward Junior Democrats and advised the YMCA Youth in Government program.

A Conclusion to this Article but Not to the Impact of Congressman Payne, Jr. 

A graphic arts graduate from Kean University, Congressman Donald M. Payne, Jr. resides in Newark with his wife Beatrice and their triplets, Donald III, Jack, and Yvonne. He is more than a politician; he’s a husband, father, friend, leader, role model, and compassionate advocate. His commitment to community, healthcare equity, infrastructure, homeland security, and proactive approach to global issues make him a modern-day hero. As we face challenges, we find comfort knowing leaders like Congressman Payne, Jr. are fighting for us, making a difference every day.

With much gratitude and appreciation, it is so much fun serving with you. My family and I wish you a swift recovery, and are sending positive vibes, prayers, light, healing, and love your way.

This is the part in the Heroes’ series segment, I usually feature an interview with our Heroes following the above write-up. This time, I invite you, the reader, to share your positive experiences with Congressman Payne, Jr. in the comments or send them to the publication’s editor to be posted below this article. Let’s collectively let the Congressman and his family know how important and valued he truly is.

Past Heroes Articles:

Heroes Walk Beside Us: Featuring Larry Hamm, a Man Who Fights for Justice

Heroes Walk Beside Us: Featuring Reverend Arnold Fox, There When You Need Him Most

Heroes Who Walk Beside Us: Alexis Bolivar, a Super Mom, Educator, & Pediatric Stroke Advocate

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2 responses to “Heroes Who Walk Beside Us: Congressman Donald Payne, Jr.”

  1. An excellent and well written article about a true Public Servant in every aspect. I have known the Payne Family for over four decades and public service is part of the family’s DNA. I would note that Mr. Payne’s service and humility is undergirded by his willingness to listen and then take action. He is a staunch believer in identifying opportunities to help grow minority businesses, especially in New Jersey and has been actively engaged with the leadership at the Port Authority of NY & NJ, NJ Transit and the Gateway Commission. Mr. Payne like his dad before him walks quietly yet carries a big stick in the service of the community he serves-which includes all of us. Continuing to send prayers for a full recovery.

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