In Memory Of Bre Payton: A ‘Strong, Clear, Bright One’

In Memory Of Bre Payton: A ‘Strong, Clear, Bright One’

While most of us would walk by and continue on with our lives, Bre Payton walked over to the police and demanded they help an overdosing homeless man. She watched until they did.
Kelsey Harkness
By

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Bre’s mom didn’t tweet often. But on June 8 of this year, she wrote, “Happy Birthday to my first born, @BrePayton. You have certainly lived up to your name; ‘strong, clear, bright one.’”

Scrolling through Twitter after Bre passed of a sudden, tragic illness, I thought, “Of course that’s what her name means. Bre was always strong, clear, and bright.”

Naturally, she was a perfect fit for this team. Already spread thin with her duties at The Federalist, Bre became BRIGHT’s go-to guest editor. With all of our hectic schedules, that meant readers heard from her often.

A few weeks ago, Bre emailed Lisa De Pasquale with the idea of adding a regular feature on the First Lady. They named it “Mondays With Melania,” which meant Bre volunteered to work Sunday nights.

This was typical Bre—always up for more if it meant doing something she loved. Together, we hosted a podcast called “Problematic Women,” and for it, she never got paid. On more than one occasion, in fact, she paid for her own Ubers to get to and from our recording studio. Money was always an afterthought, because she loved her job and had fun.

With her California Valley Girl accent mixed with her “Did-she-really-just-cite-Winston-Churchill?!” charm, Bre was made for the camera. Actually, the camera was made for her. As Mark Hemingway put it, “I remember I was in the back of the room at CPAC and Bre walked up to say hello to me. Crossing the room, she turned the heads of so many male journalists I nearly laughed out loud. Of course, that she was stunning only meant that people underestimated her intellect. What a loss.”

The coverage of Bre’s sudden and tragic death has, for the most part, been a beautiful remembrance. There are, of course, the occasional garbage people on Twitter, whom Bre would have obviously laughed off. There was also the AP, which diminished the depth of her reporting to the most recent Fox News clip she posted on Instagram (probably because she thought her soundbite was funny). But that says more about the AP than it does about Bre, and ironically, proves Bre’s exact point: The “fake news” media is “sexist and bigoted” when they cover conservative women—even one who’s passed.

The New York Times was a little more fair, at least attempting to dig into the body of Bre’s work, but it randomly picked up on a December 2016 critique of a Kanye West music video that featured a slew of nude celebs.

In truth, Bre was an incredible writer and had a brilliant mind. She was fearless in speaking the truth. One day she would write about Mark Twain, the next she would write about (yes)—Kanye West. Her commentary was culturally on-point, laugh-out-loud funny, and inspiring for young women. Bre would say what so many of us were thinking, but were too scared to say out loud. She was unapologetic because she knew she was standing up for the right thing.

My favorite recent piece of Bre’s was an October 26 expose about Washington D.C. taxpayers footing the bill for a $2 million artistic light installation going up under bridges where homeless people sleep. The light display caught her attention because it was built in her backyard. Naturally, Bre stopped to question it. She wasn’t so much concerned about the massive waste of taxpayer money (although it obviously was), but the homeless people who were being deceitfully displaced.

For the article, Bre spoke in-person with a woman who’s been on the streets for seven years. She also talked to a lawyer who’s suing the city over its “discriminatory” development plans. Bre concluded, “Absurd housing subsidies and million-dollar light installations aren’t the only ways the District has chosen extreme gentrification in favor of millennials over its longtime African-American residents. The rapid expansion of bike lanes in the city has made it difficult for families to find parking outside of their churches on Sundays.”

Driven by her strong, Christian faith, Bre was always thinking of others. She didn’t accept the world as it was, but challenged and changed it with every step.

As I shared on Instagram, Bre didn’t just write about making the world a better place, she made it one herself. On her way to one of the last “Problematic Women” podcasts we recorded, she saw a homeless man overdosing on the streets. While most of us would walk by and continue on with our lives, Bre walked over to the police and demanded they help. She then stayed and watched until they did.

Bre was one of those surprises that I never expected God to give when I packed up and moved to D.C. five years ago. In a town filled with self-important career climbers, I didn’t think I’d make real friends.

But Bre was different. Similar in age (and both Geminis), we connected over politics, policy, and all things pop culture. (Shout out, Taylor Swift!). What solidified our friendship, however, was Bre’s passion for talking about life. Everything had meaning to her.

Now that she’s gone, it’s easy to be angry. Bre had so much more to give. As The Federalist publisher Ben Domenech put it in my favorite tribute,“Bre Payton lived life as if she was always ready to leave it. And she did, too early for all of the rest of us, at the age of 26. At 26, I barely knew who I was. I wish I knew the person she would’ve become. For now, it has to suffice that I knew the person she was.”

The world will forever be less BRIGHT without Bre, the strong, clear, bright one.

For me, her legacy will live on like the surprise firework show at the end my wedding. Bre and her boyfriend Ryan, who was ready to propose, were there.

The show was brief, unexpected, and never supposed to happen. Peeking between the trees as I was walking away, I almost missed the whole thing. But when I turned around and saw fireworks light up the sky, it became a moment I’d never forget.

Bre will always be that surprise firework show to me—the bright one whom I never expected, but feel so lucky to have seen.

Rest in peace, sweet angel. I look forward to seeing you again.

To remember Bre, her family has set up The Bre Payton Scholarship Fund, which will go towards college scholarships to support other young, rising Christian leaders who share in Bre’s passion for truth, purpose, and life. Please, consider donating.

Kelsey Harkness is a senior news producer and reporter for The Daily Signal in Washington DC, a visiting fellow at Independent Women's Forum, the 2017 Tony Blankley Chair at The Steamboat Institute, and the Wednesday editor of BRIGHT, a weekly newsletter for women. She previously worked at Fox News and attended Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. Her views do not represent The Heritage Foundation, her employer.
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