Since Nov. 20, 2021, Rev. Corey B. Brooks has been living on a roof on the South Side of Chicago. He won’t come down until he gets $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 youths can get an education and trains for jobs. A leader in the fight against violence on Chicago’s South Side for almost three decades, Brooks, 53, had hoped that Black Lives Matter, which took in $66 million in donations following the death of George Floyd in May 2020, would help him with some funding . But though he reached out to the group, he said he never got a response. Here, Brooks tells The Post’s Dana Kennedy his story…
I’m living up on the roof to bring attention and awareness to the violence that is so commonplace in Chicago. I want people to know what goes on here.
I stay up here 24/7. I make phone calls. I sleep in a tent, and I do pretty much everything by Zoom. I have a baby’s bathtub that I fill with water to clean myself. I use a five-gallon paint bucket with trash can liners to relieve myself. For food we either have restaurants who donate or we order from UberEats. I get by in the cold months by layering up but it feels like the Arctic up here in the winter.
Brooks has lived on the roof for over 170 days and conducts all his business there.Matthew Gilson for NY Post
We’re fighting to change the mindset. We are about making people take responsibility for their actions and not blame others. I also hope to bring in some money so that we can build a community center here across the street from the church.
We’re up against a lot in our immediate area. First of all, a bad education system. The elementary school has a 4% reading proficiency level, a 6% math proficiency level. So we get a lot of young men who are growing up but can’t read and so when they get to ninth grade they drop out because they’re so frustrated. Secondly, we have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country in our area, especially among young black males. Then when you add the fact that we have so many gangs from block to block those issues compound. We’re dealing with the Gangster Disciples, the Black Disciples and the Black P Stones among others.
Brooks said he needs $35 million to build a community center across the street from his church, which will house all his programs, including construction training for gang members.Matthew Gilson for NY Post
Ninety children have been shot this year alone in Chicago. Over 25 of them have been killed. It’s tough for a lot of these mothers, especially the single mothers who are trying to do the best they can to raise their children in such a violent environment. The stress these families are experiencing is overwhelming.
I would never walk around 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 trafficking and drugs. We’ve been able to get people hundreds if not thousands of jobs.
Back in 2000, we first found the building for our church and it was a torn-up skating 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 put $5 million into it. We started a church that was contemporary, credible and creative, in a community that had a lot of needs.
Brooks’ church is located on “O Block,” named for gang member Odee Perry, where violence is a constant (above). Yet his programs have trained over 160 people with an 80% job placement rate. Tribune News Service via Getty Images
Now, we have a charter school for 16 to 21 year olds who’ve been kicked out of Chicago public schools. We’ve got them engaged in education and we get them to graduate. We also have a trade school. We offer mentoring and counseling. We have a wellness component and we also have a violence prevention team of 15 full-time employees who work in our neighborhood.
We need another building because we have a construction program where we recruit men and women in gangs or who have been marginalized or are just re-entering society from prison. We train them and then we give them jobs. We have trained over 160 people so far with an 80% job placement rate. We just had our first all women’s electrician class! So we’re doing a lot of great work. We just need more space.
Patrisse Cullors ran BLMGNF when Brooks asked for help from the group.Taylor Jewel/Invision/AP
This new building will house all our programs, including our trade, school and entrepreneurial programs. So far we’ve raised $12 million — about 80 percent of which has come from small donors across America with the rest coming from Chicago and corporate donors. People can donate to the “Get Pastor Brooks Off the Roof” fund.
That’s a result of me living on the roof for 170 days. I’ve only come down once — to visit my mother, Evelyn Wyatt, in Indiana where she was dying of cancer. I stayed with her the last three weeks of her life and then came back up to the roof.
Brooks first bought the building for his church in 2000 and renovated it for $5 million.Google Maps
We’ve had CEOs from around the country come to stay with us including the CEO of the McCormick Foundation. We’ve invited the mayor of Chicago so hopefully, she’s gonna be here. We invited Eric Adams when he came to town but his schedule didn’t allow him to come over. There are no bathrooms up here but when people come to stay we tell them, we’re giving you a pot and a cot.
I’ve always kept my politics to myself. For the first 14 years with my church I never even really thought about politics at all. 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 all for me until he found out I was a conservative. He tried to shut down everything we were trying to do. So we decided that we weren’t going to depend on the government for anything and stopped asking. We’re out on our own trying to find people who aren’t worried about our political affiliation. But we definitely have been ostracized for our conservative views.
Brooks’ church holds many events for the community throughout the year.Project Hood
At the end of 2020, I emailed the director of Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation for the first time on the website where it says you can apply for donations. I kept emailing and asking: How do you go about trying to get funds for your organization from Black Lives Matter? I kept waiting for a human response or any response at all. I tried again in the summer of 2021. I never heard anything back from anyone.
We were going to try a third time when we started hearing about all the problems they were having. My attorney and I looked into the possibility of taking over the organization but one of the biggest obstacles we encountered was that there was literally no one at the helm of it. There was no infrastructure.
BLM started as a movement to improve the lives of black people but Brooks said the global network hasn’t given him a dime, despite his appeals for funding.NurPhoto via Getty Images
There’s a Black Lives Matter chapter in Chicago but they’re like a secret. Nobody has seen them do any work for the community or has any data or has heard anything about them. So if they exist it’s only on paper.
It makes me angry honestly that people who supported Black Lives Matter were abused by an organization who gave money to people or organizations that aren’t doing any of the work needed in our communities. Whenever people profit off black pain for their own gain that makes me angry. I’ve been saying for a long time that Black Lives Matter doesn’t benefit the black community in any way.
“Whenever people profit off black pain for their own gain that makes me angry.”
Pastor Corey B. Brooks on BLMGNF giving money to people and organizations that don’t directly help the cause
My goal was to stay here until we raised all the money needed to build the center. I still feel that way. But I must admit that it is starting to wear and tear on me physically. At least it’s almost summer and not so cold. So I’m going to continue to stay as long as I possibly can. And hopefully that will not 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 The Black Disciples gang, and the gang picked up the “O” in his name and started calling it O Block. Since I got here, I decided we’re going to keep the O, but we’re going to make it mean O for opportunity, the Opportunity Block.