Reverend Camps On Roof In Protest

A Chicago minister went to new heights to bring attention to violence in his neighborhood. Reverend Corey Brooks moved onto the roof of an abandoned building that he said was a haven for crime. He vowed to stay until he raised enough money to tear it down. Reverend Brooks speaks to host Michel Martin about how he met that goal.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We'd like to switch gears now, and speak with a minister who has gone to new heights to bring attention to conditions in his neighborhood. Pastor Corey Brooks is the senior pastor of New Beginnings Church of Chicago. It's on the south side of Chicago. He founded the church 11 year ago.

He says he became fed up with the drug and gun violence in his community and, in one abandoned motel in particular. So last November, he decided to occupy the roof of that building to raise the money to tear it down. He pitched a tent and lived on the roof for three months until he reached his goal of $450,000.

The church now owns the building and demolition is scheduled to start next week. Pastor Brooks has now packed up his tent and gone back to work on the ground and he was nice enough to stop by and tell us about his experience and what's next.

Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us. Welcome back to terra firma.

COREY BROOKS: Thank you. I appreciate you having me on the show.

MARTIN: How did you get the idea to climb up on that roof?

BROOKS: Well, I was actually studying a passage of scripture in Habakkuk, Chapter 2, and it talked about him going up on a watchtower, that he could hear from God. And his time was much like our time. They were having a lot of social conflict. They were in the midst of a recession. Enemy nations were coming against them and he just needed to hear something from God to change things around.

So that's kind of where I got the idea, the whole watchtower concept, and needing to hear from God on how I could play my part to make the community a better place.

MARTIN: Could you tell us a little bit about the neighborhood? And just by way of reference, I understand that you preached 10 funerals last year, for young...

BROOKS: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...black men who died from violence, presumably.

BROOKS: Absolutely. Well, first of all, our community - it's a place where it's become a killing field, sad to say. It's a place where young kids can't go and play basketball at the park and they can't walk to school safely. They can't go to a corner store. And that's not the way a community is supposed to be.

Last year alone, I did 10 funerals of young black males under the age of 25. This year, already, I've done four. And so we're living in a place where violence has become the order of the day. It's a place where the stakeholders in the community are saying, we don't want that in our community any longer, so we're trying to do our part to step up to the plate to make sure we rid the community of violence so these kids can have a safe place to live.

MARTIN: How did you wind up picking the building of that particular motel, to climb up on that particular roof? Why did you pick that one?

BROOKS: Well, that motel is directly across the street from our church. Now, it's an old, dilapidated building, but at that time, we started protesting it about three years ago. And at that time, it was drug-infested. It was a den of prostitution and people were going there doing all kind of illegal acts. And it just became a place in our neighborhood where a lot of criminal activity was going on and it was the center - or the hub - of just things that we did not want.

And so we came up with this concept that, instead of trying to conquer the whole neighborhood, we're just going to go block by block and it starts right across the street from our church.

MARTIN: And what was your vision for that particular building? You thought you could make it - what? Into a community center or a rec center...

BROOKS: Absolutely.

MARTIN: ...or something like that?

BROOKS: Absolutely. Our goal is to turn it into a community and economic development center. One of the reasons why our community is suffering is because our children don't have places that they can go for recreation or social skills or conflict resolution. They don't have a place where they can go and hone their skills and learn the things that will enhance their lives.

And so, we want to build a community and economic development center that will make the lives of these young people a lot better and it will make the neighborhood a lot safer.

MARTIN: We're talking to Pastor Corey Brooks. He spent more than three months camped on the roof of an abandoned building across the street from his church in Chicago. He was trying to raise money to tear it down.

Did you think you were going to be up there for three months?

BROOKS: You know, actually, when I first went up there, I said, you know, I'm going to go up here and maybe it'll be, like, 21 days. My church - you know, you'll see that the pastor is on the roof and the community will come and we'll all gather together. And, in 21 days, I'll be able to come down.

After day 21 came and I realized we were a long way from having the money, I started to believe then that it's going to take some time and so I prepared my mind and I prepared my heart for the long term. I did not think it would take 94 days, but I had made up, in my mind, regardless of how long it takes, I was going to stay right there.

MARTIN: Well, I was going to ask you that. Did you ever think of giving up? Did you ever think of saying, it's too cold up here? It's too cold. Can't do it.

BROOKS: You know, absolutely. Many a times. I kept a journal every day. There were so many days in the journal where I just wanted to just say, this is enough. And, in the first 30 days, I was fasting, so I wasn't eating anything. So I was cold, it was dark, I was hungry and I was like, this is not the smartest of moves. Maybe I shouldn't have done this. So I thought about it quite often, but whenever I would have those moments, I would always think about those young men that were killed and I would think about their mothers and I would think about their family, how - you know, they have no option. They have no choice.

I could go down from the roof, but they can't come back from the grave. And so I decided to stay up there, and every time I would get disappointed or frustrated, I would just think about those kids and think about their parents and it would make me, you know, go ahead and commit.

MARTIN: Did you ever think about inviting somebody else to join you? You know, you could have, you know, played bid whist or something.

BROOKS: The thing about it, though - the people that I probably would have invited - they probably would not have taken my invitation because, you know, I probably would have invited the mayor or the president or somebody like that to come spend the night. And I even called my other cot - I had another cot up there. I called it the Lincoln Room, and so I would have invited someone like that and I don't think they would have received that invitation too well.

MARTIN: Particularly appreciated - particularly since it was wintertime, as we might mention again. You could have maybe waited 'til May, but that wasn't the plan.

BROOKS: That wasn't the plan.

MARTIN: And then a woman in your church wrote into the Tom Joyner Morning Show.

BROOKS: Yes.

MARTIN: And filmmaker, Tyler Perry - he of the Madea Films and owns a studio in the Atlanta area.

BROOKS: Yes.

MARTIN: Best selling playwright. And this is what happened. Here it is.

TYLER PERRY: I'll do that. I'll give him the $90,000.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: What?

PERRY: I will.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Wow.

PERRY: I'll do that. I'll do that.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh, man. Tyler.

PERRY: If - hey, listen, if this has all been vetted, it's all real and it's community - community center that's going to help stop some of the crime that's going on there - I love the people of Chicago, man. I'm in.

MARTIN: And so what happened? How did you hear about it? Were you - did you happen to be listening at the time or how did you hear about it?

BROOKS: I was not listening at the time and then my timeline on Twitter started going crazy and then my phone started going crazy and people start calling me and I finally answered a call and there was this lady - I don't even know who she was. She was crying and she was like, Pastor, you can come down. You can come down. Tyler Perry's going to give you the money. And I didn't know what she was talking about and I said, well, you know, I'll believe it when I hear it.

And about two minutes later, the Tom Joyner Morning Show called and Tyler Perry was on the line and that was one of the happiest moments of my life.

MARTIN: So have you gotten the check?

BROOKS: You know what's so crazy? They wired it the same day, so it was so quick, I could not believe it because I had told them on the radio - I was just joking around. I said, you know, listen, I can't come down 'til I have the money in hand. And Tyler Perry said, listen, my word is good. And, a couple of hours later, they called us, got our account information and, from there, they wired that money immediately to our account.

MARTIN: OK. Well, I stand corrected. I stand corrected. Two snaps, right? But...

BROOKS: Yeah.

MARTIN: But, important to note that that money took you over the top. It was not the core - right - of your fundraising, but you said that something like 2,000 people actually...

BROOKS: Yes.

MARTIN: ...contributed to the purchase of the building. And has - the purchase of the building has actually gone forward?

BROOKS: Yes. The purchase of the building actually did go forward and so we were able to go ahead and secure it and we're really excited about that.

MARTIN: So what's next? How soon do you think, from where we're talking this week - now you've purchased the building. Do you think that, you know, you can invite us to the ribbon cutting? How long do you think it's going to take?

BROOKS: It's going to take us a little time. This week, we're going to have a celebration where we're going to have a fun - you know, just enjoy the moment about being able to celebrate the fact that we have the money and we purchased the building and we're going to tear it down.

And so, in a couple of weeks, we're going to start getting together to properly get rid of the building totally and now we start the hard part and that's the $15 million campaign to go forward.

One of the great things about it is that, today, we receive great news from one of the largest architect firms in the country, Will and Perkins, who is going to do all of our drawings, all of our renderings, all of our architect work, for free. And so that is one of the most exciting things you could ever hear and we're going to do it. There is no doubt in my mind that we can get the $15 million that we need to build a fabulous center for these kids.

MARTIN: Corey Brooks is the founder and senior pastor of New Beginnings Church of Chicago. That's on the south side of Chicago. He was kind enough to join us from member station WBEZ.

Pastor Brooks, thank you so much.

BROOKS: Thank you. I appreciate it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Just ahead, football is this country's most watched sport. And when you sit down to watch a game, what do you expect? Hard hits? Sure. But is the violence why you watch?

JACK MARSHALL: At the end of the day, it is a violent sport and that's what the league and its fans need to come to terms with.

MARTIN: Now, in the wake of an NFL scandal over an alleged cash-for-hits scheme, some are asking if the fans are part of the problem and solution. We'll ask that question next on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Prize winning journalist George Dohrmann spent eight years documenting the world of so-called grass roots basketball, where kids as young as eight or nine might be picked over and worked like thoroughbred horses. And where are the parents, you ask?

GEORGE DOHRMANN: It's amazing how much they're willing to overlook.

MARTIN: Just in time for March Madness, we'll talk about this next time on TELL ME MORE.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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