Allison Payne was a giant in the Journalism and Media space to many but also invisible to others. Her passing has been a tough pill to swallow for those who knew, loved, and adored her but has been just another flying story for those who didn’t even know her face or name.
I remember sitting on the campus of Lewis University as a Radio and Television broadcasting major watching the legendary Allison Payne on the news Monday through Friday, wishing I could just be even half the journalist that she was.
The summer of ‘93, it was me armed with the same Greek letters she had, Delta Sigma Theta of course, from Lewis University, to intern at WGN where I went to meet my idol. Allison was the ultimate blend of my two sheroes: Iman and Shirley Chisholm. She was a tall and beautifully statuesque freedom fighter. Nothing brought the kind of excitement than me rolling up and seeing her pearl colored Infinity car in her personal parking spot. I spent 11 years working at the same news organization she worked at, watching her every move and being impressed with her style and grace.
For every athlete who grew up wanting to be like Mike, there was a generation of young Black and Brown girls with a mic who wanted to be like Allison Payne. She was just that good. No, better than good. She was just that special. Allison was “Being Mary Jane” before Gabrielle Union stepped forth in her role of that dynamic woman on BET. She was the consummate class act, an amazing media professional who went above and beyond to tell the stories. Had there been a consultant needed for “Being Mary Jane”, Allison Payne should have been at the top of the list.
Her office was like a therapy session for many people. The only thing she was missing was a couch, but when you entered into that space it was as if you were transported. You may have gone in to vent and talk about things but you always came out changed. Sitting in my cubicle outside of her office, I witnessed firsthand how many people sought Allison for counsel and advice or just shared their weekend stories. She served everyone and she gave everything she had to whoever needed it.
See, it didn’t matter what was happening, Allison taught you how to find the story in it. It was after our work trip to LA that an unexpected incident happened during our stay. That incident made me come back to Chicago and pitch a story to her and our news director about Black men living a double sex life. The lifestyle was called “Brothers on the Down Low.” We interviewed JL King who wrote a book with the same title. By her crafting this story, we could address the epidemic of Black women getting HIV and AIDS from men that lived this lifestyle.
She gave me so many opportunities and tools needed to be successful in this industry. She was a big sister and mentor all in one. Allison used to tell me I was wise beyond my years. Telling me things like, “Deborah Brown, you see the red flags for what they were and I see them and put it on like a cape. Like Little Red Riding Hood.” We would laugh hysterically about things like that and so many others.
Deborah Farmer is the president of Brown Farmer Media Group Inc., a full-service, Chicago-based communications firm. She’s the former director of station relations at NBC5-TV Chicago.