By Karen Willoughby —
A Chicago pastor has a solution to the violence in the Windy City , and he’s taken to a rooftop to proclaim it.
Southern Baptist Pastor Corey Brooks is spending 100 cold and windy days and nights – Nov. 30 to Feb. 28 – on a rooftop nearly 40 feet above the streets, where he invites people to come and talk with him about their lives, to discuss ideas, solutions and opportunities, despite the all-too-common fatherlessness that can lead to gang life in a search for protection.
“Violence is like cancer: You can see it spreading,” Brooks, founding pastor in 2000 of New Beginnings Church of Chicago, told Baptist Press. “Violence started in impoverished pockets in our community. Because we didn’t deal with it properly to annihilate it, it’s gotten to where you can see it spreading, like up north.
“When you don’t deal with the violence, when you don’t handle it as you should, it continues to escalate not only here but in Memphis, St. Louis, New Orleans, San Francisco. … You have to intervene in peoples’ lives before they start down a pathway toward destruction.”
Brooks’ plan – a vision from God, he says – is to build a multi-faceted community center that will address the economic, social, mental and spiritual needs that plague the inner city.
Politicians enact policies but people effect change, the pastor said.
“We believe the government cannot change hearts,” Brooks said. “They can legislate laws but it is faith in Christ that changes hearts.
“One sign that the glue holding our society together is definitely weakening? Smash and grab thievery,” he said. “It’s bad faith in action, from people who don’t have faith in society. There’s no trust in the world.”
He is staying on the roof for 100 days and nights to raise awareness about the effects of violence, and to raise $35 million for a community and training center across the street from the church. As of his 50th day on the roof, he’s raised about one-third.
Brooks first came to the attention of Baptist Press readers last March in his continuing efforts to raise the money first to tear down a decrepit hotel across the street from the church, and now to build an 89,000-square-foot community building with centers focused on entrepreneurial, medical and arts training. Each center – even a golfing set-up to teach youngsters how to be caddies – will have naming rights for major donors.
The Chicago Cubs is one of the major donors, but the individual contributions of thousands of Christians could together be another major donor, the pastor said.
“We need to do our very best to restore our good faith in society,” Brooks said. “Our kids have nothing to care about, to believe in. They see failure everywhere. With the good faith – the hope in Jesus Christ – we can restore faith that society, neighbors, family cares about them. With that good faith we can restore the good will, that respect in our society.
“We simply have no other choice, or the headlines will get worse.”
Foxnews.com posts a video segment each day of Brooks talking with members of the community, of the city and of donors from as far away as Brooklyn, N.Y., and Florida.
“Without that godly work, it’s useless,” Brooks said in one segment in conversation with Gil Monrose of Brooklyn. “My faith causes me to love people.” Monrose replied: “We must have faith to be this cold for sure. Faith must propel us to action. Faith drives you from where you are to where God wants you to go.”
A green winterized tent with double membrane to keep out moisture, a red sleeping bag good to 0 degrees and a portable propane heater (the tent has a carbon monoxide alarm) help protect Brooks from the elements, which include Chicago’s ever-present wind, intermittent rain and occasional snow. Church members provide his meals. Guests arrive via an orange scissor lift ladder.
Brooks bathes in a blue plastic baby bath, uses a 10-gallon paint bucket as needed, and sits, fully outfitted in winter gear, in a camp chair before a portable campfire. His perch is atop storage containers rising above the yet-to-be-built community center, surrounded by a wooden fence.
Brooks’ son Cobe, home for Christmas break from Morehouse College in Atlanta, talked in one segment about growing up in the neighborhood.
“I lost so many friends,” he said. “There was no opportunity in the community except for church. Nobody invested time in kids except at church. I lost at least six friends in the last five years.
“Gangs are protectors. You look to your big brothers on the block. They’re the ones who are there for you. … A community center would be one of the biggest things that would happen in our community.”
In a local news interview posted on Day 45, Pastor Brooks said, “We cannot wait on the government. If we don’t do it, it’s not going to be done. … First, we have to punish those who break the law. Second, we have to give people opportunities to change their lives.”
Mike Uremovich, owner of Manhattan Mechanical Services in Chicago, spoke in one segment with Brooks about the partnership his firm has with Project H.O.O.D. – New Beginnings’ nonprofit, which stands for Helping Others Obtain Destiny.
“Kids from Project H.O.O.D. go through 10-12 weeks of training, have a job at the end and now are making $70-80,000 year,” Uremovich said, to which Brooks responded, “We’ve trained 150 kids so far in construction trades,” and Uremovich replied, “We could have jobs for 150 to 250 a year if we had this center built.”
The ministries New Beginnings in doing in its facility, a former skating rink and bowling alley – food, clothing, spiritual and school classroom mentoring, instruction in building trades – will be enlarged and expanded in the new center and will include training in culinary arts, hospitality, entrepreneurship and more.
“In our community one of the reasons we have so much crime is a lack of opportunity and lack of businesses,” Brooks said. “We’ll also have a trauma center to help people deal with what they’re gone through. A lot of kids have had friends and family members killed, and they’ve never dealt with the trauma.”
The only time Books has been off the rooftop this winter was to lead in the funeral of a 9-year-old boy and his mother, who were killed in gang violence.
Eighty percent of families in the area are led by single parents, the pastor said. The community center will minister in various ways to them and their children. Its counseling will promote adoption over abortion. There will be facilities for sports, fitness, music and the arts.
Brooks said his goal is to build and furnish the community center so it can take its place rebuilding the community one family at a time; rebuilding Chicago one neighborhood at a time; and eventually – by others catching the vision for their town – rebuilding America one city at a time.
“My greatest desire is to redeem this community from poverty-entrenched hopelessness to entrepreneurial-infused hope,” Brooks said. “Hope undergirded by God’s unconditional love and acceptance.” — Baptist Press