One October morning, Mia Jaye sits in an olive crew neck that reads “Black Men Deserve To Grow Old.” A diamond-encrusted “Mom-E-O” chain rests on the shirt’s collar. She’s wearing her passion and her pain.
Exactly one year ago, Young Dolph, Jaye’s romantic partner of nearly a decade, was gunned down in his native Memphis. They shared two young children, Tre and Aria. The loss has left her reeling.
“It’s just so hurtful,” Jaye, 33 says. “I’m living each and every day, the aftermath. I see it in my children, how they’re hurting and trying to overcompensate for the loss.”
Prior to her fiancé’s death, Jaye launched ‘Black Men Deserve To Grow Old,’ a service and merchandise brand. It’s focused on the distinct intercommunal and state violence Black men face. (Twenty-five percent of all profit goes toward a fund that Jaye uses to distribute funds to families impacted.) The 2020 shooting death of Jaye’s older brother, Jeremy Jerdine, moved her to introduce the effort. Jerdine was a car salesman, a husband and a father of four who was killed by a disgruntled customer at his place of work.
Jaye had shared the details of her Mom-E-O venture with Jerdine, a man she describes as “wise.” On a whim, she recorded one of their sit-downs, not knowing the audio would serve as way to maintain her connection to him for years to come.
“I just thought that it was nothing but a God move that I would even have the thought to record such a conversation,” she says. “He was giving me advice and so many things that that voice memo, it spoke to me. It speaks to me, even to this day, and it inspired me to start Mom-E-O.”
She never thought the phrase ‘Black men deserve to grow old’ would ever resonate even more deeply.
Since I spoke with Jaye, the hip-hop community has begun grieving the loss of PnB Rock and Takeoff. Both men were shot and killed while enjoying everyday activities – the singer was eating a meal with his girlfriend, and the rap star was playing dice at a bowling alley. Their deaths hearken back to the murders of Nipsey Hussle, Pop Smoke, Goonew and countless other Black, male rap stars who have been victims of gun violence.
Many of the well-known hip-hop figures who’ve been murdered in the past five years didn’t live to see 40. Young Dolph was just 36 years old when he was shot while picking up a batch of cookies for his mother.
Rappers being snuffed out during their prime years is no longer a peculiar happenstance, it is nearly a monthly occurrence. But even in its more infant stages, hip-hop’s burgeoning MCs and deejays; Scott La Rock, B-Doggs, Charizma, were mowed down senselessly in their youth. It exposes America’s propensity to dispose of young Black men without thought.
It is also a reminder that loving a hip-hop star has meant teetering on the cusp of devastation. That grim reality has done incalculable damage.
“I’m honored to say that he was my soulmate. I’m honored that I had children with such a standup man.”
During our conversation, Jaye mentions an eerie comment Dolph made to close friends the night before his death. “The night before he passed, he told close friends like, “If anything happens to me…” she says, before noting he didn’t speak with her about plans in the instance of his passing. “He was talking from a very morbid place, as if he felt like his time was expiring,” she says.
Jaye also feels that people were reluctant to align with her vision for Black Men Deserve To Grow Old until Dolph’s death.
“It wasn’t until I lost my soulmate, my significant other, my fiance,” she says of the hesitation. “Literally, starting in August of 2021, I’m starting like, “Man, this is a theme. We need to talk about this.” And November comes, mid-November comes, and he’s taken from my family, from my children, from our household, the same exact way.”
Jaye and Dolph, birth names Jermia Jerdine and Adolph Thornton Jr., were planning their long-awaited wedding when the rapper was killed. The two shared a sweet love.
At the time of their meeting, Jaye was completing her final year of college at the University of Memphis. A friend of Jaye’s suggested that the pair meet and see if there was any chemistry.
The commercial real estate major wasn’t looking to enter a relationship with a rap star, but he won her heart by opening the line of communication and being consistent.
“For about nine months, he would call me. He would be like, “What you doing? Want to go get something to eat?,” she says. “We would go get something to eat, but he wouldn’t talk much. He was just so laid back. He wasn’t what I expected.”
Soon enough, the two became inseparable, bonding over a shared worldview and a strict, loving upbringing. Jaye was raised by her mother in Detroit and Dolph’s grandmother played a large role in raising him in Memphis. The respective women brought up the two with Christian values and a vision for how to interact with the world. Jaye has leaned heavily on her mother since burying the man she will always refer to as her soulmate. She also attends an all women’s Bible study where they zone in on modern issues and talk through tough life circumstances.
Another blessing has come from Jaye finding support in people she didn’t realize Dolph had poured into. “I’ve had community support, and I’ve needed it. My family, close friends, like I said, people that I didn’t even know that Adolph sowed seeds into,” she says.
She’s also has engaged therapy, reiki, yoga and meditation to wade—and not drown—in the agony. “I’m just constantly like, let me try things that is going to have a positive impact on my spirit, so I can continue to journey on, and I can be able to transfer this knowledge to my children.”
For the next phase of Black Men Deserve to Grow Old, Jaye is looking to let people know that while her late partner is a part of the movement, she’s devoted to rallying for all Black men and boys who lost to violence.
“Every man that’s losing their life, every Black man, every Black boy—when they step outside, [it’s] a risk.” The likelihood of them returning home the way that they left, it’s against them. The odds are stacked against them.”
Though the strides she’s making are heavy and deeply personal, Jaye is intentional about taking each day as it comes. She wants to give to both of her initiatives without downplaying the fact that she’s hurt. She foresees herself slowing down soon, as her children, and she, matter most.
“I want to walk in my purpose, but I don’t want to sacrifice myself and my family any further than the sacrifices that’s been made, she says. “I just want to be super intentional to just fully heal, inside out, while doing purposeful work that was birthed out of trauma.”
Photographer: Wulf Bradley – @wulf.bradley
Hair Jerica Edwards – @jericaedwardshair
Makeup; Danielle Mitchell for Exclusive Artists using Dior Forever Foundation – @Makeupby_Danielle @exclusiveartists