It started as a campaign launched in 2020 by Mia Jaye. The CEO and founder of Respectfully Momeo started the #BlackMenDeserveToGrowOld campaign after the murder of her brother, Jeremy Jerdine. Her cause aims "to raise money for families who have lost their husbands and fathers due to an act of violent crime." A surge of the same hashtag appeared on social media after the murder of Jaye's longtime partner, 36-year-old rapper Young Dolph.
"Black men deserve to grow old" is an idea that seems so simple yet profound at the same time. Black men do deserve to grow old. That's a given. Yet, we live in a world where folks die early from homicide, suicide, and other health issues. Some of these men leave behind family, friends, and loved ones who wanted to see them live well into their 80's, 90's, and possibly hundreds. How do we ensure Black men get to see old age? And is it enough to only ask for survival? Settling for survival seems adequate when constantly exposed to loss.
But I know when folks say, "Black men deserve to grow old," we're pushing for more than outliving our loved ones and white counterparts. There's this assumption that growing old is akin to living a fulfilled life. "Black boys and men deserve to experience rest, be creative, celebrated, free, and whole while we are alive," writer Danté Stewart expressed in a recent Instagram post. "And not be told, in so many ways, that we have to wait for it when we are dead." I know. I know. It's a morbid way of expressing the desire for fulfillment. But what Stewart says here speaks to a reality that's all too familiar.
Our current culture makes it difficult to stop, rest, and catch a break from catching hell. Rest seems trivial when the pressure to be productive looms over our shoulders. Some find it hard to celebrate life in the face of death by COVID-19, police brutality, unforeseen tragedies, and intra-community violence. Creative pursuits seem only reserved for the privileged few. It appears unrealistic to rest, celebrate, and create when getting beat down by the harshness of reality.
But rest, celebration, and creativity are necessary for the flourishing of our lives. They remind us of our personhood. To see Black men grow old means to invest in the things that tap us back into our humanity. We are more than our work and ability to provide financially. Our minds are capable of immense imagination. Our existence as Black men must neither start nor end with the idea of inherent violence.
In early November, before Young Dolph's murder, and before I was aware of #BlackMenDeserveToGrowOld, I tweeted, "if we want Black men to push the community forward, then we must develop frameworks [of our existence] that go beyond crime and delinquency." The thought came as a response to online academic discourse about Black men. I grew frustrated by those conversations because they seldom considered our humanity. And if they did, they'd still filter our lives through the question, "why are Black men so violent?" There's pain beneath that anger, trauma behind that outburst, and stress swelled within those balled-up fists. The desire to see Black men grow old requires us, both individually and communally, to deal with those underlying issues.
Brothers, I'll be the first to advise scheduling a therapy session with a culturally competent therapist. I'm glad to see the stigma around therapy has slowly dissipated. But it can still be an uncomfortable and costly experience. I remember cutting my therapy sessions short in 2017 because money was tight. However, I gained a lot of insight from those sessions. And I felt at ease talking about my mental health with my therapist. Coincidentally, the organization I went through paired me with an older Black man. He was more of a mentor kicking knowledge, helping me understand the psychology behind my actions. He helped me understand the importance of centering rest, celebration, and creativity. Yet, I honestly haven't been perfect at doing so.
In an essay I published during this year's Black History Month, I admitted that "stress management gets put on the back-burner, even when I need it the most. Mindfulness exercises are annoying when failed relationships become the norm. Writing to process injustice seems trivial when my people are dying in real-time." Self-care is an ongoing, imperfect process. And those flaws are part of the human experience. It's equally necessary to embrace the ebbs and flows of practicing self-care. Black men growing old requires patience and perseverance. It requires us to slow down and rest when needed. It's an invitation to celebrate even amid a bleak world. #BlackMenDeserveToGrowOld suggests creating lives and structures that help us do more than merely survive.