MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — COVID-19 cases continue to climb in Minnesota, with more than 1,400 cases reported in just the last 24 hours. Recently, that number includes a prominent community member in Minneapolis.

Many have become accustomed to seeing MAD DADS wearing their green shirts all around town — especially downtown — helping young people change their lives. But now one of those green shirts is missing. National director of MAD DADS, VJ Smith, is in the hospital in a fight for his life.

“This is a terrible, very terrible virus and it’s killing our people and we have to wake up we have to protect ourselves,” Smith said.

From his bed at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, VJ Smith used social media to share his fight with COVID-19.

“I’ve got coronavirus, and I’ve got double pneumonia, and I’m fighting them both with everything that I’ve got. I’m fighting them as hard as I can,” he said in a video posted to Facebook. “So if you’d just pray for me, if you’ll just pray with me, if you’ll just lift me up, that’s all I need. That your prayers are working, your strength is coming through.”

Smith is asking people to wear their mask, practice social distancing and wash your hands — whatever it takes to stay clear of COVID-19. Smith says it is a serious virus and we all should take it seriously.

“The other morning when I called him that wasn’t our VJ, that wasn’t the strong you know hyper VJ that is keeping everyone inspired and encouraged it was like that morning he needed all of us,” Wilson said.

Peace Activist KG Wilson says it’s hard to express how much VJ means to the community.

People from all walks of life filled VJ’s social media pages with messages of love and hope, letting him know much he is respected and needed.

“VJ made me take this thing a little more seriously,” Wilson said.

Wilson hopes VJ Smith’s fight will help others realize COVID-19 is real.

“We’re all praying for you man it’s not over year we got more work to do and more love to show and I can’t show them the VJ love that you show them here in the community so get well man and come on back out here with your little brother,” Wilson said.

MAD DADS is using VJ’s condition to educate others about COVID-19.

The men and women in the green shirts are passing out masks, hand sanitizer and gloves to people as they talk to them about protecting themselves from the virus.

Reg Chapman