The act of civic engagement or community service can be done in different ways. There are those that take to the streets to take a stand against violence in their communities, but there is one activist who took his stand to the roof.
Pastor Corey Brooks of New Beginnings Church, a Chicago resident and South-Sider, embarked on a very unique journey that would extend well beyond his intended deadline. A one man occupy movement of social justice and civic engagement by camping on the roof of an abandoned motel. The neighborhood and the location of the motel is one that I know well, because in the past members of my family and a few friends lived in the community.
Arriving at the abandoned motel, several other activists and I, were greeted by a tall figure on the roof, Pastor Corey Brooks. With a warm smile and firm handshake, he invited us into his large camping tent. This rooftop tent has been Pastor Brooks’ home since late November. It was during the funeral of a teenage boy gunned down by violence, that a gang opened gunfire at the procession of people outside. This prompted the dedicated Pastor to begin his protest and camping on top of the abandoned motel near 66th and S. King Drive on Chicago’s Southside. His hope is to raise enough capital, approximately $450,000 to convert the motel into a vibrant community and economic development center in a blighted, underserved community. This community service project is called Project H.O.O.D. and as of this writing, he is approximately $95,000 short of his goal. An incredible feat, when you take in consideration there has not been a consistent media sustained spotlight on his story.
As we settled in, the talk immediately began with personal testimony about the violence in Chicago, because just the day before another victim’s life was claimed by a bullet. In its wake, one of the visiting guests and Pastor Brooks’ friend described police harassment he received by one of the Sergeants at the crime scene, which resulted in damage to his wrist, caused by handcuffs. From there, the talk shifted to possible plans for Pastor Brooks and leaders from six different gangs to meet where? Up on the roof, inside of his tent. The idea is ambitious but seems quite possible to the dedicated Pastor and community leader. Judging by his accomplishments so far, this doesn’t seem impossible.
Pharaoh: “Not everyone would have the fortitude and commitment to even attempt what you’ve accomplish thus far, describe for me, who is the man on the roof?”
Pastor Corey Brooks: “Pastor, Father, Husband, Lakers & Bulls Fan. I wear all of those hats.”
Pharaoh: “You’ve taken activism to another height, in terms of what you’re doing, having a ‘sit-in’ on a roof. What gave you the inkling to take it to this level?”
Pastor Brooks: “I think just being a historian and knowing about history. And knowing that at major times in the history of our people, there’s always been someone to galvanize a people around an idea. And sometimes, they didn’t intend to do that; sometimes it was intentional but at the end of the day there was always this one person that rallied the troops.”
I try to approach what I’ve done with as much humility as possible because at the end of the day it really is not about me. It’s really about these kids having an opportunity to grow and develop and live productive lives. I want to see them graduate from high school and college. I want to see them have families, but that can’t happen if they keep killing one another, so this isn’t about me, its about them. “
“Its also about elevating our level of consciousness and awareness to have compassion and love for one another, so because of those things are greater than me that’s where my focus happens to lie. That’s why I try to do what I try to do because at the end of the day I just want the world to be a better place and I want to do my part to make sure that it happens. “
Pharaoh: “Project HOOD (Helping Others Obtain Destiny) speaks to just that, trying to make the world a better place. Can you explain what is Project H.O.O.D?”
Pastor Brooks: “Project H.O.O.D. is about stopping gun violence in Woodlawn, Englewood, America and the world. We want to stop people from shooting & killing one another. We want to bring peace. Our goal with Project H.O.O.D., is to build a community center that would house mixed income apartments, commercial space for job creation through business, social services and other key services.”
As of this writing, Rev. Corey Brooks had been on the roof, as he describes it, “Eighty-seven long days.” he answers with a laugh. I asked him, since his arrival on the roof what were some of the most interesting things people have said about his mission and his rooftop sit-in?
“People have said a lot of good and wonderful things. The things that have inspired me are the Seniors (Senior Citizens) who were there in the days of Martin Luther King Jr. They start telling you that this, reminds them of that. It’s the most humbling thing that can be spoken. When I see the emotion in which they say it, it adds to it. They are on social security and they don’t have a lot; but they remember Martin Luther King and want to give me something. And that something is more than what I thought it would be; every single time.”
Pastor Brooks pauses to reflect and clears his throat before he continues,
“So I realize the major sacrifices that they’re making and when those things are expressed it makes me emotional. I get the most encouragement and inspiration when they come by and they applaud your efforts. I think every generation wants the generation before them to be proud of what they’re doing.”
Throughout our conversation, Pastor Corey Brooks reiterates that what he’s doing is not about him but the hope of a better future for our children. How dedicated is he? He’s stayed on the roof; endured through the frigid Chicago weather, he didn’t leave the tent for the first seven days to overcome anxiety and fear, he tested his resolve by fasting for the first 30 days and made a commitment to God “to be here as long as it takes.”
Well, as of February 22, 2012 , Pastor Corey Brooks has been on the roof for 92 days and still going. He credits God, his Family, New Beginnings Church, the community offline as well as online with over 8,000 followers spread out across Twitter and FaceBook.
“Social Media has been the most powerful tool for us. I think the fact that we’ve raised the funds we’ve raised is largely due to social media and getting the attention of other media, radio and t.v.”
Several of those news outlets that have covered Pastor Brooks; WBEZ, The New York Times, Huffington Post, CBS News (Local and National), CBS Radio, Fox Chicago News and Associated Press (AP News) and WBBM Newsradio. Some notable leaders have visited Pastor Brooks and among them have been; Governor Pat Quinn, Rev. Al Sharpton, Head Rabbi Michael Seigel however the Pastor insists that more is needed for him to reach his goal.
Despite the great accomplishment and dedication, one has to wonder, how long can this civic leader continue, if it takes longer to raise the funds for Project H.O.O.D.? The strength and perseverance to do so, seems to be in the mission itself. In his own words,
“The cause is justified. It helps to solidify the reason that I’m up here. Kids are dying. Young men are being shot and no one is saying anything. And if they are saying something, they’re just talking about it but no one is trying to do something to stop it. So each time a shooting happens, it reminds me of the reason that I’m here. It reminds me that we’ve got to do something. It reminds me to keep brining it to people’s attention. So even though, Lord knows I hate that people are being hurt; if there’s anything that can come out of it for good, I’m going to try to find the good and bring it into fruition to help people’s lives change. “
For more information and to connect with Pastor Corey Brooks: