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John F. Payne Memorial Fund

Payne Announcement

Father John Francis Payne – former Head of School, Director of Student Affairs and Dean of Students at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts – devoted his energies to the service of others, including the education and professional development of young people, especially those who did not have easy access to opportunities for advancement. His spirit of giving, love and faith touched, transformed and saved thousands of lives.

The John F. Payne Memorial Fund was created to honor the memory of Father Payne and to keep his legacy alive.  It will help to support the Duke Ellington School of the Arts’ multifaceted programming that fosters a learning environment that provides talented students with the tools to succeed through excellent artistic training and academic instruction. Father Payne’s twenty years at Ellington shaped many lives through Shepherding, scholarship and love – and your financial support allows all the young people who walk through our doors to experience the best arts education there is to offer.

If you would like to make a memorial gift in honor of Fr. Payne, please click here. Checks can also be made out to The Ellington Fund and mailed to John F. Payne Memorial Fund, Duke Ellington School of the Arts, 3500 R St NW, Washington, DC 20007.

For more information or questions, please email or call 202-299-5663. Thank you for your support and generosity.


“We Love you Madly”
Poem for Father John F. Payne
Astra Armstrong, Class of 2015
Written 10/14/2014

I’ve been trying to think of words that will entice an ear, words that’ll leave an impact on the one that hears.

The more I tried I seemed to be different about my own thoughts; the testimony of my path is what my inspiration caught.

The view that was influenced around me but what I did not know, was what I had already seen, had already being. But I closed my eyes just like a child, just like a child I put my hands to my ears and refused to listen, the more I drifted to the wild. Not realizing that the more I shunned, the more I sunk.

I was lost, undone unaware of the cost I had done but inside my head there was a voice screaming “run, run, run………… run for your life.” But that voice I chose to shun.

That’s the story for many young people out there. But no, wait. Out where? It’s not out there anymore, it’s right here, you’re right here. I’m right here. For I was part of the inside, but living outside.

I’m not quite sure when I learned to take men into my arms, but I’m sure that once he, as a father, felt my bones and wanted to protect me. Maybe he saw me fragile. He is 1,000 stacks of bravery for loving the battlefield of our hearts.

Even in our weaknesses he would never forget to say that he loved us and would support us in all that we do. Even when his own heart struggled against what he wanted to do and what he didn’t like.

He knew it would be an impulsive jump in the waters of God’s grace and make sure that you knew it. An example of great grace because God knew what he was doing in calling him out from a barren city to a place that he could call home. Revolving his life around a sin who bought light where there was dark. A spark of hope set in motion that will continue to grow into an ocean of grace.

He’s on a journey taking counter for every mile, striving to speak to the heart wiping out a story with a smile. For he strives to leave an influence that never dies. So let his message become inscribed upon the canvas of your heart, you are a masterpiece not just a cheap work of art.

For all the man he is, to leave his dreams in my good morning smiles, greeting him at the entrance of the school building. To keep his hope underneath my fingernails for his hands are used for prayer, they reach God somehow.

This is for all his wanting, for every twilight wish he used on the twinkle of our skin, for the telltale stories he envisioned to tell to his children one day, for the fairy tale he swore to adorn our lives with. Do you know what its like to look a man in his kaleidoscope eyes and too see the star gazer he has become since children have stepped into his life? Have you ever felt what its like to feel that when his body leaves he’ll never look at the sky the same? Because we taught him so much of the moonlight.

My heart is weak for a man who knows what a teardrop taste likes, but is strong enough to know that this will end with a salt water sea, a delicate climax of going and knowing that we aren’t saying goodbye but saying hello any way other than shattering glass and misunderstood tears.

Do you know what its like to look a man in his despair staring eyes and to watch him tie his future into a bow and place it on your lap? Have you felt what its like to know that you have to stare into those same kaleidoscope eyes and hand him back his fairytale?