Catching Up With V.J. — Funding woes frustrate MAD DADS president

MAD DADS
VJ Smith Photo by Kenyon Starks

MAD DADS (Defending Against Drugs and Social Disorder), a grassroots outreach organization for the community by the communit, fights the proverbial good fight, stepping up for safety on our streets. Its members wear their trademark green T-shirts, meeting and greeting the public with a positive message.

“We haven’t stopped and we won’t stop”, proclaimed MAD DADS National President V.J. Smith, taking time from a non-stop schedule to talk at his South Minneapolis headquarters. “We’ll keep doing what we have to do, because we believe in this.”

That commitment extends across America, dealing with the devastation of drugs and gang violence, promoting self-empowerment, and enabling people to – despite destructive environments – seek and sustain constructive lifestyles for men, women and, importantly, children. No small job.

Founded by in Omaha, Nebraska in 1989 by a group of fed-up African American men and fathers, following a nationwide crack cocaine epidemic, the organization responded to this crisis with boots-on-the-ground activism. Volunteers put in time outside of work and family, rallying to a crucial cause for communities to this day imperiled by a social cancer.

Smith spoke with the MSR in a candid, off-the-cuff conversation.

Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder: MAD DADS does great things. Doing good doesn’t keep the lights on. How are things?

V.J. Smith: It’s been a hard job. We didn’t get funding from the Obama team. Not getting anything from Trump’s team.

MSR: Big surprise.

VJS: One of things [the public] is not good at is realizing it takes dollars to run an organization. Unfortunately, most of our dollars don’t come from people that look like us. It comes from others. We’re the ones we’re helping.

But, I think we should find a few dollars to help organizations that serve our community [like] the NAACP, Urban League and different organizations [which are] helping MAD DADS. I have my NAACP membership. I support the Urban League whenever I can. And I support other Black organizations, especially young people coming up. I meet with and mentor them. That’s what we have to do. Unfortunately, though, we don’t do enough of it.

We [as a community] spend too much of our money at the corner store, too much of our money with business owners who don’t look like us. Don’t invest money back into our community and we have to do a better job. We’re holding on. Looking for partners, federal funding. But, anytime you rely of government dollars, which come in, say, three to five year cycles, you can’t count on longevity. It won’t work for you. You must be self-sufficient. We’re working on building an enterprise [of] products and services. Printing, graphic design. Private security.

MSR: Since you went, in 2011, from leading the Twin Cities chapter to becoming president, what’s the update?

VJS: We still have Pittsburgh, we have Jacksonville, Florida. Buffalo, New York, Iowa and Minnesota. So, there are five chapters. We’re looking at Jamaica and some other places, a lot of potential chapters that want to start. We have interest, we just don’t have dollars. We want to grow across the country and have Minneapolis be the hub for that, training [new chapters]. We’ve come up with a model that will work well with any chapter. We’ve maintained a national organization that pretty much didn’t have any [governmental] funding, but, is still maintaining. At one point, we had 60 chapters because [Florida Governor] Jeb Bush had made a significant contribution. Florida had 50 chapters [until] Jeb Bush cut off the funding.

MSR: You wouldn’t expect him to help in the first place. What happened?

VJS: I really don’t know. After the cycle, they probably renewed it with some other program.

MSR: This isn’t only about dads.

VJS: No, it’s not. We have our Moms Division. Some are mothers, some not, but, there’s nothing in this world that men do without the power of women making sure things get done. [They] can get assistance, especially with our MAD DADS camp. We do four a year.

Many single mothers, man, they’re just tired. Worn out. Summertime comes and the kids are driving them crazy. So, we do a camp, take the kids for two or three days. What a blessing. That’s like gold. She can let her hair down, go to the club or just to the park. Read a book. A lot of these single mothers don’t get any time to themselves. We love to give that to them.

MSR: Anymore on that?

VJS: Some are stuck in prostitution, cocaine, heroin. We have our Moms Division talk to those mothers, help through their situation and their pain. We believe most of our women are upset with men. So, sometimes it takes a mother to touch their hearts. Let them know there is a way out.

MSR: Not everybody understands what MAD DADS goes beyond brothers and sisters who go around smiling and shaking folk’s hands.

VJS: We ride the busses and keep them safe. For over a decade. Nobody has ever been beaten, shot or stabbed while we’ve been on the bus. Our street patrol to keep downtown safe. When you look at us, when we started out, in 1998, all we did was street patrol. Walk the streets. Since then, a whole plethora of programs and services allow people to turn their lives around.

MSR: That couldn’t happen without a positive response from the community.

VJS: Not only do they like what we’re doing, but, they got behind us. A lot of community members complained that [organizations] get money, but don’t do anything. Well, we got money and started hiring [staff]. Whatever you gave us money for, we did it. We bought our own flashlights. And kept ourselves organized, stuck to the mission. That gives us credibility as an organization you can trust.

 

Find more information on MAD DADS and its services is at minneapolismaddads.org.