MAD DADS reach out to Lake Street

When I went on an excursion with a group of MAD DADS on Lake Street this weekend, I found their success astounding.
V.J. Smith hadn’t had a good night’s sleep since the cops busted down his door many years ago. After cracking his ribs, they arrested him for carrying weapons and transporting drugs across the country. On Oct. 3, he slept well for the first time. On that day the Minneapolis MAD DADS chapter he organized was started.
MAD DADS (Men Against Destruction Defending Against Drugs and Social Disorder) was founded in Omaha, Neb. in 1989. The founders realized there was a common thread stringing people on the streets together: the lack of male role models.
The organization tried to make up for the void by sending men into the streets to talk to the less fortunate and direct them toward progress, be it rehab, a job, spiritual guidance or just someone to chat with. The organization has burgeoned from 14 members in 1989 to more than 45,000 members nationally today.
Smith learned about them on the news one night and decided it would be a good thing for Minneapolis to adopt. So he did the research, made some calls and donated hours of his time. Now a group of MAD DADS walk around Lake Street and other streets every Saturday night, talking to gang bangers, drug addicts, alcoholics and prostitutes.
The nights are never boring, Smith said.
Once a group of gang bangers threatened a handful of walking group members by running past them repeatedly, literally brushing shoulders with them, making mention of the guns they carried as they whizzed by.
About a month ago, just outside of Cup Foods — not “Cub” — in Chicago, a young teenager asked Smith if he would be his dad. The kid’s real dad was dead. He considered his stepdad to be more of a customer than a dad because he sold him drugs on a regular basis.
Among the locations we went to included the Roundup Beer Hall, one of the seediest bars in town; Chicago-Lake liquor store, the busiest store on Lake Street; and Cup Foods, a blighted grocery store.
“Most of the people in that bar and liquor store know either me or my family,” said John Turnipseed, a MAD DADS member. This is because Turnipseed comes from a family whose members are all too familiar with the streets. Turnipseed’s son, a former member of the Rolling 30s Bloods gang, had his leg blown off by a shotgun blast. And several cousins of his are in jail for gang-related activities.
Looking at Turnipseed, one would never guess that he regularly committed crimes and sold drugs to maintain his crack addiction and alcohol problem until about five years ago. He resembles Steve Urkel from the TV show “Family Matters.” Urkel was a scrawny black guy with glasses, almost nerd-like, but immediately disarming. What Steve Urkel did not have was Turnipseed’s gift of eloquence. Now he teaches computer science for a living, volunteers every Saturday for MAD DADS and teaches a class on fathering every Tuesday.
Turnipseed and Smith are typical MAD DADS members. All of them have lived the street life in one way or another. Because of this, people on the street take them more seriously than other social workers whose relatively posh lives have rendered them somewhat aloof.
It might not be a good idea for the less streetwise to approach, say, a possible gang banger hanging out near the Chicago-Lake liquor store and vainly attempt to help them change their destructive life style.
Due to its downtrodden nature, there is always a cop on duty on the premise. “One time,” one of the group members laughs, “a guy got into the back seat of the cop car because he was so drunk he thought it was a cab.” Another time the group had to break up a fight between two gang members in the parking lot. Nonetheless, the MAD DADS were not intimidated on Saturday night. In an unabashedly forward manner, they handed every passerby a flier and talked to everyone they could. Surprisingly enough, their reception was warm.
Over the course of the night, the MAD DADS were able to recruit at least two members and got many people to open up to them, including gang bangers, drug addicts and alcoholics.
Two men outside the liquor store who were obviously intoxicated agreed to come to Turnipseed’s fathering class Tuesday. When a MAD DADS member asked a man standing outside the Roundup bar if he had a job, the man replied, “That depends on what you call a job. I’m getting money.” After talking extensively with the MAD DADS member, he agreed to let them help him find a job.
Another man named Benny stood shivering outside the bar when they approached. Gloveless and with holes in his tennis shoes, shivering Benny told the MAD DADS he just got out of the slammer and that his kids were in foster homes. Watching the men get in a prayer circle with Benny outside a bar that used paper towels taped on the door for disclaimer signs on Lake Street was a sobering sight.
At Cup Foods, a little grocery store that has been in the papers lately for the high number of drug sales occurring on the premise, the owner offered the MAD DADS free beverages due to the positive influence they have had on the customers lately.
Slowly but surely, their presence is becoming more widely noticed in the area. Since starting in the fall, they have recruited almost 40 members and have helped place about 15 people in rehab. Sadly, however, the program is fragile.
Unless they get more recognition and support, MAD DADS could fizzle out. Right now, the program is a subgroup of Urban Ventures, an organization that facilitates the upstart of such programs for up to two years, then pulls out. That leaves a year and a half for MAD DADS to find enough funding to support themselves. In order for the program to flourish, people must first become aware of them and then support them when they try to raise funds. For instance, the MAD DADS sell a phone book called the Black Pages, a listing of all the black businesses in the Twin Cities.
Keep your eyes open for this and other MAD DADS fund-raisers, and help maintain the survival of a truly noble entity.
Rob Kuznia’s column appears every Tuesday.