When David Payne first arrived at The Lincoln University in 1991, he had completed 10th grade, a General Equivalency Diploma and a four-and-half-year stint in the U.S. Army. Throughout his Lincoln tenure, he said he kept two things in his wallet, a $1 food stamp and a $1 million check he had written himself— the two items meant to keep him grounded and focused.
And it paid off. On Tuesday, December 2, 2014, Payne, now a successful entrepreneur, announced at the university’s monthly faculty meeting that he can now begin to pay a ‘debt’ to his alma mater with a $100,000 gift to the university for a Dream Deferred Endowed Scholarship. Another $5,000 gift will recognize campus organizations with the best social programs for the upcoming year in honor of slain Ferguson, Missouri, teen Michael Brown.
“Some debt is good,” said the 1995 summa cum laude graduate and class valedictorian. “Debt is what makes you get up in the morning and brings you home at night.”
Payne, who was accompanied by business partners, Harvey Grant and Steve Gerald, not only praised his Lincoln mentors in his remarks, but also designated them to establish the criteria and select the recipients for the endowed scholarship from their respective areas.
They were: Jernice Lea, who was responsible for him attending Lincoln, for the Master’s in Human Services program; Dr. Levi Nwachuku for history; Dr. William K. Dadson for business & entrepreneurial studies; Dr. Emmanuel Babatunde for the sciences; and Prof. Cyrus Jones, also a former longtime university track coach, for athletics, with particular priority to track & field athletes.
“There was this presence, these people, no matter how bad things got, they would recharge your batteries.”
He also recognized current and former faculty members who impacted his life as well, including: Dr. Denise Gaither-Hardy, Dr. Goro Nagase, the late Dr. Frank “Tick” Coleman and Dr. Judith Thomas.
“This is not about me,” he said referring to establishment of the scholarship. “It’s about them. This is the first step to bring to fruition some of the goals I had as a student, to give that speech that was 25 years in the making and to acknowledge those great people who were the single biggest influence to my life and the life I can provide my children.”
Jones, the track coach, spoke briefly at a luncheon in the alumnus’ honor, said Payne’s recognition of him as a mentor and influence was like “somebody putting me on the top of the Empire State Building.”
Kimberly Lloyd ’94, chair of the university’s board of trustees, who attended Lincoln at the same time as Payne, emphasized the faculty’s unexpected impact on every student.
“You never know who you have in the midst of your classroom,” Lloyd said. “It’s not always the student who sits in the front and has the answer to every question. It can be the person who just sits and listens to everything you say and does the work who makes the difference.”
Payne, who received his bachelor’s degree in accounting from Lincoln, later earned an online master’s degree in holistic nutrition elsewhere as well as several certifications. Having worked for accounting firm KPMG and later the Kellogg Company, he also worked in the health and wellness industry for several years.
However, he said he had his greatest success with a snack food business he started and later sold for a significant sum. Since then, he has been involved in a number of business ventures, including real estate and other investments, but his primary business is Capital Beverage, a water distribution company in the Washington metropolitan area.
“I was fortunate to get an opportunity to come to Lincoln and then prove I deserved to be here,” he said. “Now is my chance to help other young people who are seeking that same opportunity. It’s our time to make good on the promises that were not kept to us that we questioned.”