Second Acts: After Reaching the Pinnacles of Their High-Profile Careers, Two Women, with Ties to Higher Education, Let Their Passions Lead the Way

By Hamilton, Kendra | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, November 15, 2007 | Go to article overview

Second Acts: After Reaching the Pinnacles of Their High-Profile Careers, Two Women, with Ties to Higher Education, Let Their Passions Lead the Way


Hamilton, Kendra, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


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Retirement. It's a word with a wonderful ring, bringing images of afternoons on the golf course or lazy days puttering in the garden. It's a word that speaks of long stretches of time spent as one pleases, with children, grandchildren and significant others--or of taking those trips always promised and always put off.

And then there are those who take to retirement not as if it were a well-deserved rest, but more of a career second act. Diverse magazine has been talking to people whom we've grown to know well over the course of their high-profile careers in higher education, at associations and in the museum world. Hearing that they have stepped down from those positions, we're eager to know what's next for them? What is their second act?

Dr. N. Joyce Payne and Kimberly Camp gave us the answers to those questions for this special report on careers. Their answers were so interesting, we plan to make this an ongoing, occasional feature, so please stay tuned.

N. Joyce Payne: Another Level of Awareness

For 25 years, anyone looking for Dr. N. Joyce Payne around the beginning of the annual congressional session would have known exactly where to start: somewhere between her suite of offices on Washington, D.C.'s New York Avenue and Capitol Hill. As director and eventually vice president of the office for the advancement of public Black colleges at the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC), Payne's was a face familiar to the aides and lobbyists working on issues of biotechnology, energy and sustainable agriculture.

As the face of the "1890 institutions," the Black land-grant universities established under the second Morrill Act in 1890, Payne also worked in close coordination with an alphabet soup of advocacy organizations including NAFEO and UNCF, as well as with a cadre of enlightened leaders of historically Black colleges and universities, especially the late Dr. Clinton Bristow Jr., president of Alcorn State University.

"He was so dedicated and such a visionary," Payne says, adding that his loss was "simply devastating" and was, indeed, one of many factors, including her long years of service, that made her begin to consider retiring.

"Whenever you start upon a journey, you don't necessarily know where the path will end," Payne says. "When I started upon my journey at NASULGC, I had certain goals that I wanted to reach that I thought would take me about five years to accomplish, and then, I assumed, I would go on to something else. I had no idea that I would be doing this for 25 years."

Payne had a dream. She wanted to be a part of founding what she calls "another power center for Black colleges," an autonomous organization that could find a way to leverage corporate, federal and private dollars to assist Black colleges. The surprise came in learning she could realize that dream right in her own backyard, in a manner of speaking, at NASULGC. The vehicle was the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, co-founded by Payne in 1987, which "really does represent the goals I had 20 years ago." Payne says she has amassed some $60 million in scholarship support, capacity building and leadership programming dollars for public Black colleges and universities.

So it was with a sense of accomplishment that Payne, 66, stepped down from her post last spring. But in contrast with many at her life stage, Payne stepped down--and kept on walking.

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Though nominally retired, she's still working on a pet project with the TMCF: the establishment of a group of preparatory high schools at Winston-Salem State University, Coppin State University and several others. Payne sees the program as a return to roots for many Black colleges and also as a way for Black researchers to intervene in the national conversation about transforming K-12 schools.

But that's just one project. …

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