05/02/11

Biking, Walking, and Blogging: An Interview with VJ Smith, CEO and President of the Minneapolis Chapter of MAD DADSBiking, Walking, and Blogging: An Interview with VJ Smith, CEO and President of the Minneapolis Chapter of MAD DADS

An Interview with VJ Smith, CEO and President of the Minneapolis Chapter of MAD DADS

BWTC's Alicia Adams sat down with VJ Smith, CEO and President of the Minneapolis Chapter of MAD DADS (Men Against Destruction, Defending Against Drugs and Social-disorder) to talk about their work in the Twin Cities and the ride-alongs they have organized with Metro Transit.

 

Alicia: Hi VJ, tell me about MAD DADs and your mission.

VJ: Our mission is to decrease crime in the community and bring families together, promote safety, and build strong fathers. We work to help families take care of themselves and their neighborhoods through intervention and prevention.

 

Alicia: How long have MAD DADs been active in the Twin Cities area?

VJ: We've been active since October 3, 1998

 

Alicia: How did your ride-alongs with Metro Transit come about?

VJ: In North Minneapolis, the crime level on buses was very high. People were getting stabbed -even shot. Moreover, they were people of color attacking other people of color. We partnered with the African American Men Project  to show that we could ride the bus and help decrease crime in the community. We really wanted to show that African American men can cause positive change. In the first year, we saw a 22% decrease in crime rates on the buses. The project has been going on for four years now and the overall crime rate on buses has decreased 44%. Our folks ride the bus three days a week from 3pm to 8pm. MetroTransit was surprised and excited to learn that our volunteers could have such a significant impact.

 

Alicia: Why is this is an important venture for MAD DADs and the community?

VJ: First, our children need to see examples of good citizenship in their community. Second, elders have become increasingly afraid of our youth in the past decade. We want to protect the elders and show the youth that they need to build it up their community and not tear it down.

 

Alicia: What message would you like to send people about transit safety in the Twin Cities?

VJ: We need to be alert and protect our children and elders. We need to fight for our safety and the freedom of our community.  We don't want our elders stuck in their homes because they're afraid. We don't want youth to be fearful of riding through certain communities. We have to continue to fight for our safety and our community.

 

Alicia: Can you tell me about a particular bus ride that sticks out in your mind?

VJ: Once we got on a bus and it seemed as if everyone was in a bad mood and stressed out. Then, a young lady said that it was her birthday and the entire bus sang her happy birthday. A young man performed a spoken word piece and another young lady sang her a song. There was an amazing change in the energy -everyone worked together to turn the negative energy into something positive.

 

Alicia: How have members of the community responded to MAD DADs being on the buses?

VJ: We've had very positive responses from both riders and drivers. Drivers have even requested that we ride more and we hope that the budget will allow them to do so.  

 

Alicia: What have you learned about empowering residents and neighborhoods that would be good for all of us to understand?

VJ: I've learned that you don't have to have a gun or handcuffs to make a difference in the community. You just need compassion and a desire to listen to people and hear their voices. Allow them to express themselves --to vent and share their issues and problems. So many people hide their feelings and they come out in anger. The more we can allow our community members to express themselves, the better it is for our community.

 

Alicia: The mission of BWTC is to increase bicycling and walking for transportation. A sense of personal safety is important for this to happen. How do we address real and perceived issues about safety?

VJ:  The way you address the issues about safety is to let people know that they should be aware of their surroundings. They can ride in the daytime or in groups. You could start a bicycling group and partner with others!