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Eva M. Clayton

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Saluting the Congressman Who Served the Poor Around the World

Posted: 03/16/2012 3:54 pm

Donald Payne was a leader who was courageous, competent, and compassionate. He leaves a great legacy and example for Members of Congress to follow. Indeed, his constituents of New Jersey's 10th Congressional District will miss him, most of all for his dignified and dedicated representation. But perhaps the constituency group most affected -- the one that has lost a fearless leader -- is the poor around the world, especially those on the African continent or in the African diaspora.

We can learn from the principled legislator and humanitarianism that Congressman Payne continued to be right up until his death. He demonstrated his commitment through proposing legislation and providing leadership to protect critical programs that would protect the most vulnerable among us, particularly those living in developing countries around the world. This was evident by his legislation to support Somalia, Zimbabwe and Haiti.

In early 2011, Congressman Payne stated at a congressional hearing in the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights:

It is fitting, Chairman Smith, that we begin our subcommittee's business for the 112th Congress by highlighting a foreign policy challenge that resonates in the hearts and minds of so many members of Congress, both Democrat and Republican. Our commitment to solving this problem exemplifies that Americans care a deeply about these issues."

Payne was concerned about putting the world's poorest countries on a track toward economic development and prosperity. Even in light of the sadness and pain we feel as a result of his death, we should be encouraged to continue his legacy and leading for those who are less fortunate.

To uphold his legacy as an international humanitarian, his colleagues on Capitol Hill should look at the global food crisis. Today the global prices of food and commodities like energy continue to rise. This increase is putting food out of reach for many of the world's poorest and most vulnerable. Payne's legacy would want us to think through how decisions made in Washington or New York are playing a part in making food more expensive.

All too often, the epicenter of where decision makers maintain their focus seems to push hunger in the backdrop. But, I know our leader Congressman Payne would warn us that a world of rapidly rising food prices, rising commodity prices, and increasing food insecurity is literally unsustainable for the poorest people across the globe. They will suffer malnourishment and many will die.

Congressman Payne will be greatly missed as an extraordinary human being, able to work both sides of the political spectrum with consistent and effective leadership. He was a great advocate for the underserved here at home and around the world. One of his greatest contributions as a political leader was putting a compassionate face on America's global leadership. I hope his colleagues in Congress will uphold his legacy by continuing to put a face of compassion to helping the developing world reach their full God-given potential.

Our prayers are with his family, constituents and all of those who benefited from his great tenacity for the poor.

Eva Clayton is a Former Democratic Member of Congress for North Carolina (1992-2003) and was assistant director general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (2003-2006).