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Chicago pastor camps out on rooftop, raises millions for community center

Corey Brooks
New Beginnings Church Senior Pastor Corey Brooks speaks with the media while camping out on a rooftop in Chicago, Illinois. |

A Chicago pastor is camping on a rooftop to expand his community-wide efforts to raise awareness about violence in Chicago’s South Side and transform people's lives by building a community center. 

New Beginnings Church Senior Pastor Corey Brooks began an extended rooftop campout in November to raise $35 million to build the Leadership Economic Opportunity Center located in Cook County. Having raised over $11 million so far, Brooks returned to the roof just after Easter service on Sunday.

In March, he suspended his campout to tend to his sick mother’s bedside. He officiated her funeral on Good Friday.

In an Easter Sunday tweet, Brooks announced he was on day 148 of being back in his tent and urged the public to help him raise the $24 million for the center that will enable his organization, Project Helping Others Obtain Destiny (HOOD), to expand its outreach efforts.

The Leadership Economic Opportunity Center will be run by Project HOOD, an organization Brooks founded in 2011 that offers job training, educational support and wellness services in the surrounding area. 

The pastor started Project H.O.O.D. by camping on a motel rooftop in Woodlawn for 94 days, eventually raising enough money to purchase the property and tear the motel down as part of an effort to bring national attention to gun violence, drug dealing, sex trafficking and prostitution.

The "rooftop" that Brooks is now camping out on is a replica of the future center, consisting of four, 40-foot shipping containers that sit on a lot where the motel once stood. 

According to its website, Project HOOD has served over 1,500 at-risk youth and 2,500 adults through 15 different programs focused on “individual and community transformation.”

The 89,000 square-foot community center will offer the surrounding community trauma services, a children's shelter, teen programming, a schoolroom and sports facilities.

"I envision the students and going to the courts shooting hoops with the kids, that keeps me going. I can only imagine the day we finally cut the tape and everyone can walk in and see this facility on the South Side of Chicago. It's going to be amazing," Brooks told WGN-TV.

A statement posted by Project H.O.O.D. on April 13 revealed that before his mother died, she told him to "finish what I started."

"She said she always knew I was safe because we had a community center,” Brooks said.

“The kids in our neighborhood need one too, and that’s why I am doing this. For safe spaces, skills training, and community building.”

The pastor also expressed gratitude for the support he received after his mother's death, saying "messages came in from all over.” 

“I returned to the roof yesterday after the Easter service because my mother told me to finish what we started,” Brooks wrote in a statement released Monday. “I hope you will help us increase awareness about the violence on Chicago’s south side.” 

“Together, we can change this reality for so many young people by building the Project H.O.O.D. Leadership and Economic Opportunity Center,” he continued. “These young people are not lost or forgotten.”

Project H.O.O.D. reported Monday that an anonymous Michigan business owner offered a $250,000 gift match for the center. According to a tweet from the pastor, the gift matching challenge will last for 30 days. 

As CBN News reported, Brooks and other members of his church camped atop the shipping containers last November to protest gun violence in the city. 

"The shootings in Cook County are at an all-time high since the 90s," the pastor said. "Our neighborhood really needs a place of transformation, a place where they can go and get all the things that they need to start trying to change their life. This center is really, really needed at this point in time."

As WBEZ reported last September, Chicago Police Department figures showed 524 murders occurred in Chicago by the end of the summer, “the highest annual murder tally in a quarter-century.” The report indicated this count was not far off from the city’s highest annual homicide in 1996, when murders totaled 796. 

Brooks asserted that he did not think the government and the police alone could solve the issue of crime in impoverished areas, telling The Chicago Sun-Times last December that these areas need resources like the kind Project H.O.O.D. provides. 

"Instead of raising money to tear something down, we're raising money to build something up,” he said.

According to a CPD report covering the week of April 11 to the 22, the city experienced 51 shooting incidents within the last seven days, with 622 incidents occurring overall throughout the year. 

As The Chicago Tribune reported on April 3, data from the CPD showed that as of March 31, shooting incidents were down from 582 to 508 this year. The police also reported 10 fewer homicides, totaling 128 so far for this year.

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