The South Side pastor — who is encouraging CEOs and others to join him this time — is seeking to raise $35 million for a new community resource center.
Ten years ago, Pastor Corey Brooks slept on the rooftop of a dilapidated motel for 94 days with the goal of helping end the cycle of violence in his Woodlawn neighborhood.
Now, with violence nearing record levels a decade later, Brooks is camping out again.
Late last month, Brooks, now 52, embarked on a 100-day “tent-a-thon,” a campout with the same stated objective of ending gun violence. His home until Feb. 28 will be a tent atop eight shipping containers at 6615 S. King Dr.
A small heater is helping protect him from the bitter cold, while a stove is serving as a firepit. And his bathroom is nothing more than a bucket and baby washing basin.
Brooks — along with a few others who have spent nights with him on and off since he started his latest campout — is enduring the harsh conditions to help raise awareness of violence and poverty at a site that is just steps away from what was once Chicago’s most dangerous block.
“I’m in an environment on the South Side of Chicago that can be a pretty tough,” Brooks said in an interview. “To be outside in the elements, to make that sacrifice over a long period of time, draws attention.”
Brooks’ effort drew national attention in 2012, when he raised $463,000, including $100,000 from movie mogul Tyler Perry, to buy and tear down the motel, which he said was a hotbed of drugs and prostitution.
And while he said conditions have since improved in the immediate area — it’s no longer home to the city’s most dangerous block — he acknowledged there’s “still a long way to go.”
Now, he hopes to build a new $35 million resource center.
“The shootings in Cook County are at an all time high since the ‘90s,” said Brooks. “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.”
The Leadership and Economic Opportunity Center, which is planned as an 85,000-square-foot-building, is envisioned to provide a safe space for children.
It would be built across the street from Brooks’ New Beginnings Church on South King Drive, in the same space as the shipping containers.
“Instead of raising money to tear something down, we’re raising money to build something up,” said Brooks.
The center will include teen programming, a trauma center, sports facilities, including a pool, and a schoolroom.
Already, $7 million has been raised or pledged to the center. For the nearly two weeks Brooks has been camped out on the rooftop, an additional $250,000 has been raised. Brooks hopes to break ground within the next two years.
The center is part of Project H.O.O.D., an organization Brooks created the first time he hit the roof.
According to the group’s website, violence prevention programs, education and workforce training have helped more than 1,500 at-risk youth and 2,500 adults in transition around Woodlawn and Englewood.
Up at 5:30 a.m.
On the roof, Brooks usually starts his day at 5:30 a.m., reading and listening to podcasts. By 7 a.m., he’s getting ready for his 9 a.m. team meeting. And by noon, he and those outside with him are making calls and emails, taking donations and pledges.
One person who has been by his side is Chris Eubanks. Eubanks, who was born on the West Side and then lived throughout the South Side growing up, is a developer with Maty Lac Developments. It was his team that built the deck for Brooks to camp out on.
“I’m out here just about every day,” said Eubanks. “There’s been a few cold nights but … I’m excited. This is part of history and it’s a good thing that he’s doing.”
This year’s campout is also labeled, “The CEO Challenge.”
“We’re calling on the majority of CEOs in the Chicagoland area to step up,” said Michael Paulsen, senior vice president of Lockton Companies. “Find out what we’re doing on the South Side in terms of our programs to provide training for jobs [and] in terms of violence prevention to help reduce and stop gun violence on the South Side.”
Paulsen, who has previously donated to Project H.O.O.D., stayed overnight on Nov. 20. As the teams were setting up, gunshots went off not too far from them.
But those around him seemed unsurprised.
“No one down there really batted an eye about it because it seems to be so common down there,” said Paulsen. “It’s similar to someone’s dog barking.”
But Paulsen stayed; he said for Brooks to have camped out 10 years ago was incredible. To do it again is inspirational.
“What I have learned is many of the different gang factions on the South Side of Chicago are street by street,” he said. “You could live on Martin Luther King Drive but not be able to cross the street to the other side because that would be another gang. What we’re trying to do is create this community center not only to provide training for people to find meaningful work, but also to bring together all the gangs in the neighborhood to one place so they can stop fighting.”
Todd Ricketts, co-owner of the Cubs, also joined The CEO Challenge.
Ricketts, who had lunch with Brooks last week, said the resource center will be an important tool for the community. He praised Brooks for his dedication.
“We all see the issues in our city and when you look around at who can make a difference, Corey stands a head and shoulders above the rest,” he said Friday.
Brooks has extended his invitation citywide, encouraging others to spend 12 to 24 hours with him.
Those who are interested in joining him can sign up on Project H.O.O.D.’s website, projecthood.org/tent-a-thon. Donations can also be made through the site.
Cheyanne M. Daniels is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.
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December 3, 2021 at 06:45PM