By Dwight Hobbes
MAD DADS National President VJ Smith has ramped things up considerably for the community-based activist organization, effecting a vital means of checking in with the public via expanded media outreach. Modestly, but nonetheless successfully, he has strengthened MAD DADS’ local profile, accessing community cable television and establishing a worldwide presence on Internet radio.
Street Talk is broadcast over Minneapolis Television Network (MTN — Ch. 17), Thursday evenings at eight o’clock for a half-hour. “It’s been a great opportunity,” Smith reflects, “to have impact. To be able to take people from the community, bring them into the studio, and allow them to see themselves, their opinions, how they feel about things that happen in their lives, in our neighborhoods.”
He adds that while small-scale TV is comparatively limited in its range, there is a clear advantage over mainstream media. “You look at TV now, and it’s always just what the [mainstream] wants you to see. It’s not what’s really going on in the community.
“People want to hear from us. They get tired of the same old hype about stuff that [doesn’t] matter to them. They want to know how we’re making a difference.”
In addition, it’s a chance to bridge communication between communities. “It’s been a good partnership to reach out to the Somali community. They watch that channel a lot. That’s an opportunity to connect.”
Tuesdays, one to two in the afternoon, is the program “MAD DADS Blog Talk Radio” (www.blogtalkradio.com). “It’s reaching an audience for people who have things to say and really want to reach out in the community,” says Smith. “It’s an opportunity to get in touch with us, to speak on issues they care about, we care about.”
He points out that although programming on the FM and AM airwaves isn’t always archived, “Blog Talk Radio” stores its shows for ready playback at any time. “That’s the great thing about that kind of radio. They can go back to it. You can go and listen a day, a week, a month later. It’s beautiful.”
As well, there’s the social network Facebook, although Smith is at something of a crossroads in that regard. Facebook doesn’t allow any more than 5,000 connections per user page, and MAD DADS numbers well over that in members of the public who want to be in touch with and stay abreast of the organization’s goings on.
However, Smith can always start up a second page. “We’re figuring out how to make the social media work for us,” he says. “Twitter and all that.”
Meanwhile, MAD DADS continues the outreach for which it is long renowned, patrolling city buses, maintaining a constant presence on neighborhood streets. For instance, tight as Smith’s time was already stretched with a demanding schedule of meetings and guest appearances at community functions, when the invitation came last summer to participate in the Amen Corner at the notorious Chicago and Franklin Avenues intersection in the Phillips neighborhood, he readily stepped forward to make MAD DADS’ presence known on a weekly basis.
Fridays from 4:30-6:30 pm, Smith helps man the open mic for the community forum where citizens regularly speak to reclaim the Throne Plaza from drug dealers. “It’s something we need to do better,” he flatly states, “and more of it, to take our community and say, ‘We’re gonna make a stand.’
“Everybody says, ‘Who’s gonna do it?’ We point our fingers at the mayor, at the governor. But, in our own backyards, we don’t get out and talk to the kids on our block. We have a problem with that. Yes, we need the mayor and the governor to do work. But, we have got to do something.”
You don’t have to be angry to get involved with MAD DADS. You don’t even have to be male. All that’s needed is the willingness to commit to helping empower the community — to, among other things, help salvage youth from negative influences.
“I’m excited about letting our young brothers know we do have positive role models,” Smith says. “Letting our young sisters, too, know that there are positive women they can learn from.” One such youngster happens to be VJ Smith’s nephew, Donald Hooker, Jr., who pitches in at the Amen Corner and is thankful for what Smith is accomplishing
“He’s doing a lot for the community, and I really respect that. That’s why I come out to give my two cents, give myself to the community. I like to give my time.” He adds that, on his own time, “Me and my dad teach chess at North Regional Public Library on Saturday from 12 to four during the summer and 12 to two in the fall.”
MAD DADS remains an invaluable resource in a time when community wellbeing is continually imperiled. As long as VJ Smith has something to say about that as the organization’s national president, MAD DADS’ ability to make a difference will be continually enhanced.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.