What began as a drastic effort to bring change to a community has also been a life changing experience for the man who took the action.
Pastor Cory Brooks of New Beginnings Church perched himself under a tent on the roof of a vacant motel across the street from his church and vowed to stay there until he raised the $450,000 necessary to buy the property and build a new community center.
He took the action after gunshots rang outside his church during a funeral he was preaching for a teenager killed by senseless street violence. Pastor Brooks, founder of Project H.O.O.D. (Helping Others Obtain Destiny), figured that without positive options, young people would continue the violence.
“The idea came that night as I read the chapter Habakkuk in my Bible,” Rev. Brooks explained. “It says, ‘I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower … and the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision … .’ Habakkuk going up on the watch tower just wouldn’t leave my mind.”
He has only come down from the roof one time, after being asked by another mother who was pained over the death of her child. At Final Call press time, the pastor was contemplating coming down Jan. 5 to preach yet another funeral of a child killed by gun fire.
Pastor Brooks described “four great giants” in need of healing in the Black community—education, economics, social and spiritual— before the community can move forward. To heal, he said, leaders must find ways to collaborate and build trust.
But the experience—more than a month under a tent, fasting for 30 days—has spurred the pastor’s spiritual development even beyond his expectations.
“I woke up crying at 3 o’clock one morning,” the pastor explained. “I cried for hours but I don’t know why. I think it was just because I’m grateful.”
The experience has also taught pastor Brooks to be patient. The extended fast, he said, increased his sensitivity “toward the things of God.” Physically, he said, “it was almost as if my body was saying thank you for giving me a break.”
“I’ve learned that when we think we’re giving our all to God, we really are not. I’ve learned that if you stay humble, God will exalt you. I’m a lot more aware of when God is urging me,” he said.
Although the weather is chilly and visitors must ride a rented construction lift to get to the roof, pastor Brooks has had a stream of well-wishers. Surprisingly, he said, more of them have been young people from the community who also want the violence to stop.
“They want to help and I send them back to tell their peers to squash the violence,” the pastor said, rubbing a quarter-inch beard that covers a once clean-shaven face.
During a recent march by 100 men down the street outside the church, pastor Brooks admonished them to hurry and raise the funds. Led by Rev. James Meeks, an Illinois state senator and pastor of Salem Baptist Church, the men chanted “Who do you love? Jesus! Who died for us? Jesus!” as traffic stopped and young teens gazed at the marchers from the curb side.
“I came out to support Pastor Brooks because 425 people have been killed in Chicago this year, more than 130 of them in the last three months,” Rev. Meeks told The Final Call. “We did a lot as a nation to protect the bald eagle. The bald eagle is no longer an endangered species, but the African American male between the ages of 18 and 30 is the new endangered species. Let’s do as much for the African American male as we did for the bald eagle,” Rev. Meeks said.
Marcher Antoine McCray, 14, is proud his pastor is doing something drastic to stop the violence, and he has a warning for his peers.
“If they could get a glimpse of their future and see they would end up in jail or the grave, they might stop the violence,” he said.
With plenty of time on his hands, pastor Brooks said raising the money has taken longer than anticipated. At Final Call press time, more than $200,000 had been raised by the church.
He spends much of his day reading scripture, responding to mail, meeting with church employees, exercising, but mostly thinking and planning. After the motel is razed, the church will embark on the more expensive task of building a new community center. That task will be easier because, hopefully, sponsors will step forward with the finance necessary, the pastor said.
For now, members of New Beginning Church are content with seeing their pastor’s Sunday sermons streamed in via the Internet, sermons that now are packed with the experiences of new life lessons.
“Sometimes you think everybody feels the same way you do about a situation. People have responded, just not as much as I expected,” he said. “God is telling me you can’t get upset because it don’t come the way you want it to come. God puts us in a position so He gets all the credit.”