Corey Brooks, Founder and Senior Pastor at New Beginnings Church of Chicago and the Founder and CEO of Project H.O.O.D, joins John Williams to reflect on the last 100 days on the rooftop and why he’s made the decision to stay on the roof until he raises enough money to build his community center in Woodlawn.
When God Tells You to Stay Put
by Corey Brooks
For the past 99 days, and 98 bitterly cold nights, I have been camped out on top of eight shipping containers on the south side of Chicago, at a location where our church hopes to build a new community center. My plan was to spend 100 nights up on the roof to raise funds for the center, while also raising awareness of the plague of violence in Chicago.
One hundred days up on a roof in Chicago’s winter, I figured, would be more than enough time to raise the $35 million for the project.
But my timing, as is often the case, was not God’s timing.
While fundraising is going well, and we have been blessed by the generosity of so many donors, we have not yet met our goal.
For the past few weeks, I have sensed that God was telling me to stay up on the roof until the fundraising for the project was complete. I knew it was God’s voice telling me to remain on the roof because it certainly wasn’t my heart’s desire. Temperatures have gotten down to minus 20 degrees with the wind chill, and I have been eagerly looking at my calendar, counting the days until I would come down from the roof.
During my time up here, I have invited CEOs of major corporations, religious leaders, and politicians to spend a night camping out with me. Those who have camped out with me have seen first-hand why our community is in need of more resources and better programs for our youth.
The Woodlawn neighborhood on the south side of Chicago is known for its gun violence. In fact, during my time up on the roof, I have heard countless gunshots fired, with the near-constant sound of police sirens wailing in the background. This is a community where nearly 50 percent of the households make less than $25,000 per year. Poverty is rampant, as are feelings of hopelessness.
Hopelessness and fear are the primary emotions that compel young men in Chicago to join violent gangs. But a feeling of rootedness in a relationship with Jesus, a strong sense of self-worth, and ties to the community are the three best ways to prevent the growth of gangs and to help young men transition from being violent gang members to productive members of society.
The pervasive hopelessness on the south side of Chicago is precisely why we feel called to create this center. God can transform even the most hopeless individuals – and in my 22 years serving as a pastor in this community, I have seen the life-changing transformations that only God could orchestrate.
I have worked with former gang members to help them receive training to start a new career—and, even more importantly, a new life—with positions in the construction, lawn service industry, and restaurant industries. These are men who were desperate to be given a second chance. Through our church, New Beginnings, and the non-profit we run, Project H.O.O.D., we were able to provide that fresh start in life.
The vision for our future community center is simple. With an 85,000-square-foot center, we will be able to expand our programs and serve so many more individuals. Our plan is that this community center will become the center of our community, providing hope and a future to a forgotten neighborhood. We will offer the tools for children and adults to reach their God-given potential—whether through classes and jobs training or through self-improvement in our gym facilities.
The space will also be used to hold community meetings and to distribute necessary care, food, and diapers to the community. These are not handouts the way the government carelessly scatters resources; these items are all given in recognition that we can help one another, and we can lead our neighbors out of the vicious cycles of poverty and helplessness.
The needs in our community are vast, in large part because the government has, for decades, fueled dependency, stomping out individual initiative with failed government programs. Government at all levels—from the federal government down to the City of Chicago—has written off our community entirely.
Our intention is to step in where the government has systematically failed and to meet individuals’ needs.
The initial plan was to break ground on the center this spring. And, Lord willing, we will raise the remaining funds and reach that goal.
God’s timing certainly isn’t my timing. As we learn in Isaiah, His thoughts are not our thoughts and neither are His ways the same as our ways. God calls on us to trust Him, even when we cannot understand current circumstances, and to be patient, even when we want to accelerate work in His name. These are two of the recurring lessons God has taught me throughout my life.
So, for now, I will remain camped out on the roof. In the words of Nehemiah as he worked to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem, “I can’t come down,” not until I get the word from God to leave my post up here.