Outside of St. James Missionary Baptist Church, where Young Dolph long had been a member, his annual turkey giveaway went on two days after he was shot to death. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley)

Pastor Rodney Herron witnessed anew the depth of Adolph Robert Thornton Jr., the Memphis rapper known as “Young Dolph,” on the Saturday before Easter Sunday this year.

Thanks largely to Young Dolph, St. James Missionary Baptist Church hosted a fun day for kids on its grounds at 1913 Hearst Ave. in the Castalia Heights community. Children ran and played, enjoying hot dogs and Easter candy; lots and lots of candy.

“Dolph was supposed to be down at Jackson State University with Coach Deion Sanders that day,” said the Rev. Herron. “I told him, “Dolph, go on down to Jackson. You know we understand.’ He told me, ‘Naw, I’m staying here in my community. I can go be with Deion any time. And so, he stayed here with our children.”

For Dolph, who was killed during an ambush on Wednesday (Nov. 17), it wasn’t a chance or one-time encounter with St. James, according to Herron. Baptized as a young boy after declaring his faith in Jesus, Dolph was a longtime member of the church. He was a man of faith.

St. James M.B.C. Pastor Rodney Herron keeps the photo of him with Young Dolph in his phone. (Courtesy photo)

When God began to bless Dolph in his career, he always returned to his community to share what he had been given, said Herron. The vehicles for doing so included Dolph’s record label, Paper Route Empire (PRE), and his charitable entity, Ida Mae Foundation (named after his grandmother), through which he showed a measure of his faith by giving away turkeys at Thanksgiving each year.

The last such event planned by the nationally renowned rapper was set for last Friday afternoon (Nov. 19), two days after two gun-wielding assailants shot him down at Makeda’s Homemade “Butter Cookies,” a community favorite. PRE and the foundation distributed 400 turkeys at St. James, just as Young Dolph had planned.

Young Dolph’s annual Thanksgiving reflection of his love for the community he grew up in went on as planned because that is what the slain rapper would have wanted, said a member of his crew. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley)

“To tell you the truth, we weren’t going to go through with it, at first,” said Brandon, a Dolph associate better known as “Bee.”

“Dolph would have wanted us to go ahead because he had already planned it,” he said. “This year, we gave out turkeys in four different locations. We did 250 in one place, and 250 in another place. Here at his church, St. James, we’re giving out 400 turkeys.”

Herron, who grew up in the Westwood community, came to pastor St. James in August of 2020.

“I came in during the pandemic,” said Herron. “I had an aunt who attended St. James for years as he was growing up. Like everyone else, I knew Young Dolph as a famous rapper. But I came to know him as being a very spiritual person. He believed in giving and sharing what the Lord had blessed him with.

“Faith without works is dead. Dolph believed that with all his heart. He had a desire to show love to his community.”

Young Dolph this past Easter weekend during the celebration for neighborhood children in Castalia Heights at St. James Baptist Church, where he lined up with Pastor Rodney Herron and a rapper with Dolph’s PRE label. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley/TSD Archives)

Recalling the Easter weekend fun day for the children, Herron said, “I’ll tell you something else, too. … Dolph loved candy. I asked him, ‘Hey, you good?’ He said, ‘Yeah, you got any more of that candy back there? He was eating more candy than the children. We all had a great time that day.”

This past Friday (Nov. 19), PRE showed up to help with distribution of the turkeys. Cars lined up well before 1 p.m. for the 3 p.m. event.

Still reeling from the shock and saddled with the grief of losing a dear friend, Bee and members of Young Dolph’s crew went to work. Asked where he was when news reached him that Dolph had been gunned down, he quietly said, “Oh, I don’t want to talk about that.”

Cherelle Canada (Photo: Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell)

Cherrell Canada is a part of Dolph’s foundation. She grew up with him.

“The foundation is just a family thing,” said Canada. “We were all childhood friends who came up together, and once he started giving away the turkeys, family just came together and became a part of that.”

Canada was at her grandmother’s house when she got the news about Dolph. “It was shocking and hurtful. We are still just stunned. It was so devastating.”

With St. James M.B.C. as the centerpoint, Young Dolph’s Thanksgiving turkeys giveaway unfolded with members of his music label, PRE, shouldering much of the load. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley)

Herron said he will miss Young Dolph walking into the church on the Sundays he was in town.

“He dressed in jeans and a white tee, with boots,” said Herron. “Dolph would sit in the back, never did call attention to himself. It’s hard to believe we will never see him again.

“We are grieving as a church family. We are grieving as a community.”