By Lenore T. Adkins, Special to the AFRO

C. Payne Lucas, co-founder of Africare, a Washington, D.C.- based aid organization focused on Africa’s development and policy issues, died Sept. 15 at a Silver Spring, Md. hospital, The Washington Post reported. Lucas, 85, died of advanced dementia, according to the newspaper.

Africare was originally based in the embassy of Niger and the organization would go on to become the largest African-American nonprofit specializing in aid to African countries, according to the Post.

C. Payne Lucas, co-founder of Africare. (Courtesy Photo)

At the time of Lucas’ retirement from the organization’s helm in 2002, Africare had directed more than $400 million to 27 countries for famine and drought relief, agriculture, HIV/AIDS prevention and other initiatives, the Post reported.

Born Cleotha Payne Lucas on Sept. 14, 1933, in Spring Hope, N.C., as one of 14 children, Lucas grew up in poverty. He earned money as a child by shining shoes and picking cotton, the paper reported.

He wrested himself out of that life by focusing on education and earning scholarships. Lucas received a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in 1959 as well as a master’s degree in government in 1961 from American University, the Post reported. He put his education on hold for a time to serve in the U.S. Air Force, according to the Post.

After graduation, Lucas interned for the Democratic National Committee before joining the nascent Peace Corps, the Post reported. He initially served as a field representative for Togo, an experience that deeply moved him because it was the first place he visited where Blacks were running the show, the Post reported.

Lucas rose the ranks of the nascent Peace Corps, working in various positions including regional director for Africa and director of the office of returned volunteers, the Post reported. From there, he helped found Africare in 1971.

Among the first issues Africare took on was easing the drought that destroyed the Sahel, the region south of the Sahara, according to the Post. Later, it wasn’t unusual to find him on television or testifying before Congress on any humanitarian crisis he felt the international community had forgotten, the Post reported.

While Lucas brimmed with pride over donations Africare received from the U.S. government, corporations, the diplomatic and political communities  and other heavy hitters, he dreamed of attracting more African-American support, the paper reported.

“Most African Americas are realizing that they don’t expect to be free in America until Africans are free,” Lucas said. “It’s one and the same cause. It’s self-respect.”

Funeral services will be held at 1 p.m.  Sept. 26 at the National Presbyterian Church, 4101 Nebraska Ave. NW. An hour devoted to family and friends precedes the service at noon.

Lucas’ survivors include his wife, Freddie, his daughter, Hillary and grandchildren Walter and Cody.