CHICAGO – After 345 days enduring the extremes of the Windy City’s weather since Nov. 30, 2021, Southern Baptist Pastor Corey Brooks of New Beginnings Church climbed down Oct. 29 from his 40-foot perch atop shipping containers across the street from the church.
Between January’s wind chill of 34 degrees below zero to a 115-degree peak in June, Brooks raised the first $20 million of a needed $35 million for the church’s Leadership and Economic Opportunity Center, envisioned as a safe place where kids and adults can learn skills and have fun that will enable them to start and work at businesses and trades that will improve the area’s standard of living.
“We would definitely not be where we are if not for the generous contributions from evangelical Christians around the country,” Brooks told Baptist Press. “Because of their gifts we will be able to witness to and transform thousands of lives for generations.”
While there was one $5 million gift, and several “matching” gifts, the majority of donations were smaller ones from individuals and churches, the pastor said.
The $20 million will be used for the construction of the 89,000-square-foot building’s shell. Volunteers would help keep costs down, Brooks said, adding that he would welcome assistance from Southern Baptist construction missions teams.
The pastor climbed down an orange scissor-lift ladder at 11 a.m. Saturday to the cheers of perhaps 2,000 people, including city leaders and many donors, such as Entrepreneur Ken Griffin, who gave the largest gift, and Tom Ricketts, owner of the Chicago Cubs baseball team, a longtime friend of Brooks and frequent donor to the project.
Brooks came down after 345 days when the first $20 million goal had been reached, and construction could start.
“We’d reached the mark where we could break ground,” the pastor said. “The start of the building will give hope to many. Our city needs to be inspired in the midst of much violence.”
True words. Two days later, on Halloween night, random shots were fired from a vehicle at an intersection in Chicago, injuring 14 people, including three children, one just 3 years old.
Among high points of his nearly year-long stay atop the roof, Brooks said, were “all the CEOs and pastors who came to spend the night to support the building and the transformation of lives.” The men discussed life in Chicago, the limitations of government and how the Center could improve the life of the city as well as its residents.
“We cannot wait on the government,” Brooks told Baptist Press. “If we don’t do it, it’s not going to be done. … First, we have to punish those who break the law. Second, we have to give people opportunities to change their lives.
“Politics can’t change hearts. It’s going to take us and the Lord to change the hearts. This is a heart issue. If we don’t get these people involved in another opportunity and options, their lives will never change and everything will stay the same.”
The very best time for Brooks was when more than 150 youngsters in one of the church’s summer programs came to the roof to see him, the pastor said.
“It thrilled my soul to see so many young people excited about the possibility and opportunities coming by way of the building,” Brooks said. “We need to do our very best to restore our good faith in society.
“Our kids have nothing to care about, to believe in,” he continued. “They see failure everywhere. With the good faith – the hope in Jesus Christ – we can restore faith that society, neighbors, family cares about them. With that good faith we can restore the good will, that respect in our society.
“We simply have no other choice, or the headlines will get worse.”
Brooks, already an experienced pastor in Indiana, moved with his family to Chicago in 2000 to start a church in the Woodlawn neighborhood, known even then as one of the most poverty-entrenched and violent sections of the city of 9 million people.
Six years later New Beginnings Church moved into a former bowling alley and skating rink, where over time the list of community ministries has grown: food, clothing, K-8 Christian education, music/dance studio, fitness center and vocational training. Its seventh class of construction workers is meeting this fall. Other students have graduated from the Metropolitan Peace Academy.
The church’s Project Hood – Helping Others Obtain Destiny – non-profit started in 2011. According to its website, Project Hood believes, “Everyone is worthy of love and opportunity and capable of turning their life around. We show up for those with no one else to turn to. Nobody is a lost cause.”
That same year came the purchase and demolition of a decaying hotel across the street from the church that had become a center for drugs, prostitution and gangs. Brooks raised about $500,000 for that.
Since then, Brooks and New Beginnings of Chicago have been raising the money to build and furnish its Leadership and Economic Opportunity Center so it can take its place rebuilding the community one family at a time, rebuilding Chicago one neighborhood at a time, and eventually (by others catching the vision) rebuilding America one city at a time.
The center is to house a community/training/entrepreneurship/sports/medical/arts center and a swimming pool. Each component – even a golfing set-up to teach youngsters how to be caddies – will have naming rights for major donors. Another $15 million is needed to complete the building’s interior and to furnish it with everything from books to furniture to kitchen appliances and more.
Brooks said his goal is to redeem his community, providing a source of hope and belonging.
“In our community – 80 percent of Woodland adults are single parents – one of the reasons we have so much crime is a lack of opportunity and lack of businesses,” Brooks said. “We’ll also have a trauma center to help people deal with what they’ve gone through. A lot of kids have had friends and family members killed, and they’ve never dealt with the trauma.”
The opportunity center is the next step toward self-actualizing people to reach their full potential, to the betterment of Chicago and the nation, Brooks said. “This building is going to give us the capacity to help many families. It’s going to be a model for what can be done across the country in violent and impoverished neighborhoods.
“The Leadership and Economic Opportunity Center is about generational change, about city change, about change across America,” Brooks said. “When you give people hope, help them find direction, there’s no limit to what God can do through them.
“My greatest desire is to redeem this community from poverty-entrenched hopelessness to entrepreneurial-infused hope. Hope undergirded by God’s unconditional love and acceptance.”