This old world may be getting others down, but one inspired Chicago minister has found a calling that is . . . higher.
As unafraid of heights as he is of lofty challenges, Pastor Corey B. Brooks of Chicago’s Project H.O.O.D. (the acronym stands for “Helping Others Obtain Destiny”) has weathered—literally—the Windy City’s heat, rain, snow, and brutal cold from a contrived rooftop that proved as much a platform as a pulpit. His reason: to raise millions of dollars to construct a community center that will revive, and maybe even save, a South Side neighborhood that many had written off as lost, hopeless, and dangerous.
This now-national story (Fox News has given the pastor’s campaign near-daily attention) finds that Brooks—who first ascended to his open-air residence on November 20, 2021, his 345-day feat of elements-battling concluding late last month—has raised over $20 million dollars for his aspiring project.
To be located on the site of a since-demolished derelict hotel, the groundbreaking for Brooks’s visionary Leadership & Economic Opportunity Center took place upon his October 29th descent, with the pastor expressing confidence he will be able to raise the additional $15 million that will be needed to complete the project. Brooks declared the Center “will allow us to expand and scale our services to meet the growing needs of the marginalized communities we serve and grow our local economy to enhance the prosperity and quality of life for all residents.”
The 89,000-square foot, multi-purpose facility will teach vocational trades, including construction certification, restaurant franchises, culinary arts, and landscaping, while also offering entrepreneurial classes and related workshops—things too-little-known in this hardened and besieged neighborhood.
Brooks’ fundraising strategy—which replicated a campaign he had engineered a decade earlier—was to spend 100 days of rooftop living, preaching for renewal and encouraging financial support, all while battling Chicago’s notorious elements. Abetted by a pup tent and sleeping bag, he more than tripled that time commitment as he waged his efforts from atop a stack of shipping containers brought to the empty lot across from his New Belongings Church on Chicago’s South King Drive.
The unorthodox means of drawing attention to a community need resonated locally, nationally, and internationally. To date, some 20,000 people have donated over $20 million, including a four-donor, $2.5 million matching-gift effort, as well as a profound $5 million gift in July from Citadel CEO Ken Griffin.
When completed, the center will provide an after-school “safe place” for children, offer “trauma counseling, health and wellness services, and creative social-emotional programming,” intramural sports and swimming, weekend teen programming, classrooms for readiness-skills training and employment-search assistance, and overall, serve as a “place that provides community care, embraces its history and serves as a beacon of prosperity, positivity, and peace.”
Far from its launch, but still far from completion, the project has been long in the making, kick-started by Brooks’s determination to turn blight and criminality into opportunity and safety.
A KNACK FOR ROOFTOPS
A decade ago, Brooks took to the roof of an abandoned inn across from his house of worship to patch up what The Christian Science Monitor described as “a giant hole in the community’s fabric.” The former “Super Motel” had long been Woodlawn’s nemesis, known less for sleeping accommodations than for drug dealing, gang meetings, and prostitution. After it closed, Brooks had thought to buy and convert the abandoned nightmare—but its price tag was hefty. Perhaps inspired by Zacchaeus, Pastor Brooks set up camp atop the blighted building’s roof to promote his fundraising efforts. His 94 days of attention-getting raised $450,000, sufficient funds to buy the ramshackle—and have it demolished.
Inspired to create a community center on the now-vacant lot, Brooks commenced a 3,000-mile, cross-country walk in 2012 to raise funds to underwrite its construction—but the stunt raised only $500,000. In the ensuing years, Brooks continued his ministry, the empty lot across from the church always a reminder of unfinished business.
Last year, determined to rejuvenate efforts, and seeking an unconventional gimmick to attain the goal, Brooks turned to an old one—camping and preaching and promoting from a Chicago rooftop.
The scope and price tag for Brooks’s dream—and maybe Woodlawn’s renaissance—has grown to $35 million. With another $15 million needed to fully fund the Leadership & Economic Opportunity Center, few will be surprised if the intrepid preacher, inventive fundraiser, and champion of civil society takes again to lofty heights. The means of final success may come in a tried-and-tested means: As The Drifters once melodically advised, “right smack dab in the middle of town” there’s “a paradise just about trouble proof . . . up on the roof.”
For more information on the project, its progress, and how you can support, visit Project H.O.O.D.