As of November 20, 2021, Reverend Corey B. Brooks is live on a roof on the south side of Chicago. He won’t come down until he receives $35 million in donations to build a new 84,000 square foot community center across from his New Beginnings Church, which he established 20 years ago as a place of worship where local youth can receive an education and train for jobs. A leader in the fight against violence in Chicago’s South End for nearly three decades, Brooks, 53 years old, had hoped that Black Lives Matter, which raised $66 million in donations after the death of George Floyd in May 2020, would help him with some funding. But although he contacted the group, he said he never received a response. Here, Brooks tells his story to Dana Kennedy of the Post…
I live on the roof to bring attention and awareness to the violence that is so common in Chicago. I want people to know what’s going on here.
I stay here 24/7. I make phone calls. I sleep in a tent, and I do almost everything via Zoom. I have a baby bath that I fill with water to wash myself. I use a five gallon paint bucket with trash can liners for relief. For food, we either have restaurants that donate or we order on UberEats. I manage in the cold months by layering up, but it feels like the Arctic here in the winter.
We fight to change mentalities. We want people to take responsibility for their actions and not blame others. I also hope to raise money so that we can build a community center here in front of the church.
We are faced with many things in our immediate area. First, a bad education system. The elementary school has a 4% reading skill level, 6% math skill level. So we have a lot of young men who grow up but can’t read and so when they get to ninth grade they drop out because they’re so frustrated. Second, we have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country in our region, especially among young black men. Then when you add the fact that we have so many gangs from block to block, these problems get worse. We are dealing among others with the Gangster Disciples, the Black Disciples and the Black P Stones.
ninety children were filmed this year only in Chicago. More than 25 of them were killed. It is difficult for many of these mothers, especially single mothers who try to do their best to raise their children in such an abusive environment. The stress these families are experiencing is overwhelming.
I would never walk here at night. You could be mistaken for a gang member and shot. But since we’ve been here, we’ve been able to get rid of a motel that had sex and drug trafficking. We have managed to create hundreds, if not thousands of jobs.
In 2000 we first found our church building and it was a torn up ice rink called Route 66 that had been used for skating parties and raves. The building was pretty much demolished and was a big piece of junk. We bought it and renovated it and invested $5 million in it. We started a church that was contemporary, credible and creative, in a community that had many needs.
Now we have a charter school for 16-21 year olds who were expelled from Chicago Public Schools. We engage them in education and get them to graduate. We also have a business school. We offer mentorship and advice. We have a wellness component and we also have a violence prevention team of 15 full-time employees who work in our neighbourhood.
We need another building because we have a construction program where we recruit men and women from gangs or who have been marginalized or who have just reintegrated into society after prison. We train them and then we give them jobs. We have trained over 160 people to date with an 80% placement rate. We just had our first female electrician course! So we’re doing a great job. We just need more space.
This new building will house all of our programs, including our business, academic and entrepreneurial programs. So far, we’ve raised $12 million – about 80% of which comes from small donors across America, with the rest coming from Chicago and corporate donors. People can donate to “Get Pastor Brooks off the roof» funds.
It’s because I lived on the roof for 170 days. I only got off once – to visit my mother, Evelyn Wyatt, in Indiana where she was dying of cancer. I stayed with her for the last three weeks of her life, then I climbed back up to the roof.
CEOs from across the country have come to stay with us, including the CEO of McCormick Foundation. We invited the mayor of Chicago so I hope she will be there. We invited Eric Adams when he came to town but his schedule didn’t allow him to come. There are no toilets here, but when people come to stay, we tell them, we give you a potty and a bed.
I have always kept my politics to myself. For the first 14 years with my church, I never even really thought about politics. And it wasn’t until six years ago that I finally told people I was a Republican. I’ve been a Republican since I was 20.
(Then Mayor) Rahm Emanuel was everything to me until he found out I was a Tory. He tried to stop everything we were trying to do. So we decided we weren’t going to depend on the government for anything and we stopped asking. We try to find people who don’t care about our political affiliation. But we have definitely been ostracized for our conservative views.
At the end of 2020, I emailed the director of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation for the first time on the website where it says you can request donations. I kept sending emails and asking: how do you try to get funds for your organization from Black Lives Matter? I was waiting for a human response or any response. I tried again in the summer of 2021. I never heard back from anyone.
We were going to try a third time when we started hearing about all the issues they were having. My lawyer and I investigated taking over the organization, but one of the biggest obstacles we encountered was that there was literally no one running it. There was no infrastructure.
There is a Black Lives Matter chapter in Chicago but they are like a secret. No one has seen them doing any work for the community or has any data or heard anything about them. So if they exist, it’s only on paper.
Honestly, it angers me that people who have supported Black Lives Matter have been abused by an organization that has given money to people or organizations that are not doing any necessary work in our communities. Whenever people take advantage of black pain for their own gain, it angers me. I have long said that Black Lives Matter in no way benefits the black community.
My goal was to stay here until we raised all the money to build the center. I always feel like that. But I must admit that it is starting to wear me down physically. At least it’s almost summer and not so cold. So I will continue to stay as long as possible. And I hope it won’t be much longer.
The block where our church is located is called “O Block”, after a young man who was shot and killed here. His name was Odee Perry. He was a member of The Black Disciples gang, and the gang took the “O” in his name and started calling him O Block. Since I got here, I’ve decided that we’re going to keep the O, but we’re going to make it mean O for opportunity, opportunity block.