By Reg Chapman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Minneapolis activist says he is listening, and insisting others also pay attention.

MAD DADS National President VJ Smith is just out of the hospital after fighting double pneumonia and COVID-19.

“I wasn’t sure I was going to come back either, I didn’t know, you know. I didn’t know what that virus was going to do,” Smith said.

He says he’s about 75% back to full strength after battling the infectious disease. The video he shared from his hospital room two weeks ago showed just how sick he was.

“I’m fighting them both, with everything that I got,” Smith said in the video.

He talks about fighting the virus alone, as no one could visit his hospital room. He says it was the stuffed animals sent to him from well-wishers that kept his spirits up.

(credit: VJ Smith)

“The stuffed animals, it was just something that God asked me to ask people for,” Smith said. “I didn’t want flowers, I knew they would die, so those stuffed animals, man, every time I look at them it inspires me.”

Smith believes he was exposed to COVID-19 from working in the community.

“I’m a hugger, I’m a prayer, This is going to be the hardest part for me,” Smith said. “I pray for people. How do you pray for somebody six feet [away]? I don’t know, I got to work on that.”

His team now has new marching orders.

“We’re increasing our mask that we give out,” Smith said. “We’re also increasing the fact that we wear masks,” Smith said.

He says before they were lax on mask wearing, but now it’s mandatory — something he hopes the entire community adopts.

“Mask up, wash your hands. It’s extra stuff, but we got to do it, because we got to live,” Smith said.

He wants people to take COVID-19 seriously.

“People are dying at a large number and high rate. Get tested, before you go around the people that you love, especially those weak people, those vulnerable people, get tested,” Smith said. “And if you have it, stay away from them.”

And for the prayers, text messages and stuffed animals, Smith has something to say to everyone who reached out during his illness.

“I just want to thank everybody so much for all the love, the care and concern, all the gifts and everything. It was really appreciated. I am so thankful,” he said.

Smith is making masks mandatory for all MAD DADS chapters across the country, and there are new protocols for large crowds and vigils. He says leading by example is the only way to win the battle against COVID-19.

Reg Chapman