Words by Matt Schneider

For years, gang violence and illegal drugs ran the streets of Omaha, Nebraska, destroying communities and endangering the lives of innocent bystanders. In May 1989, a group of parents decided enough was enough: It was time to take action. In an attempt to deter this behavior, MAD DADS was founded.

MAD DADS, Men Against Destruction — Defending Against Drugs and Social Disorder, has since expanded nationally with chapters in Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Jacksonville. The grassroots organization continues to spread its message through programs designed to attract, challenge and prepare its members to be vocal, visible and vigilant in restoring safe communities and healthy families.

I had the pleasure of speaking with the president of the MAD DADS Jacksonville chapter, Donald Foy, to gain a better understanding of MAD DADS and its involvement in the Jacksonville community.

Before the Jacksonville chapter was established, the national MAD DADS president, George Spencer, came to Jacksonville following extensive acts of violence taking place in the community, asking Foy personally to establish a MAD DADS chapter in Jacksonville. When I spoke with Foy, he explained that he initially turned down the offer due to his existing commitments in the community.

In 2002 a triple homicide left the Jacksonville community outraged. The Kirkland boys, ages 12 and 13, were riding home from football practice with their aunt when they were mistakenly targeted and tragically killed in an act of gang retaliation. After realizing no one was willing to do anything about it, Foy took matters into his own hands. 

“The Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, ‘You do something about it,’” Foy explained.

The Jacksonville chapter has been up and running ever since, having just celebrated its 20-year anniversary on April 15. 

Foy explained that MAD DADS’ ultimate goal is for the Jacksonville community to be crime-free, violence-free and drug-free through community programs and citizen involvement.

One program especially close to Foy’s heart is the Merchant Seaman Program (MSP). MSP employs young adults in careers where they can excel in a positive direction and make an honest living. 

“We put about 90 guys at work as merchant seamen,” Foy said. “We have them working from the Gulf of Mexico to Japan, China and Africa, all of them working on the boat, having created a career as merchant seamen.”

Foy said adolescents who are attracted to and consumed by our current culture of violence are often poverty-stricken and come from single-parent homes. When these children see someone behind the wheel of a luxury car or wearing expensive clothes obtained through the illicit trade of narcotics, they feel inclined toward pursuing a similar path in life. 

“If we asked them to stop selling drugs, then we have to offer them something to go right along with that,” Foy explained. “They get a career making good money as a merchant seaman. You can’t ask them to stop selling drugs for a McDonald’s job.”

Another way MAD DADS impacts the Jacksonville community is through its annual summer youth basketball program. For the last 10 years, MAD DADS has used basketball to better prepare 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds for life as adults.

“It’s a 12-week program where we meet with them and teach them life skills, and we know most of them love basketball,” Foy said.

As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, MAD DADS can only continue to operate with support from the community. 

“Never feel that you don’t have something to offer your community. You could help us out with the life skills program,” Foy said. “If you’re not athletic, you could always help us by going to the streets and knocking on doors helping these families get justice. And overall, you can always give a [monetary] donation to MAD DADS.”

For more information on MAD DADS and to learn how you can contribute, visit maddadsjax.com. Additionally, Foy reminds everyone, if they see something, say something: Call Crime Stoppers at (904) 398-3775, and you can remain anonymous. It doesn’t take much to change a life. Get in touch today and start making a difference.