A Glimmer of Hope Emerges on Chicago’s South Side

June 26, 2023

Pastor Corey Brooks has triumphed over enormous odds to lift the fortunes of South Side residents

There are many black pastors who have made their names over the decades. Jeremiah Wright, Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson come to mind. Surely their hearts were in the right place when they started their ministries, but over time they strayed from God’s path and created paths of their own. Each have become distinct dividers rather than uniters. They saw dollar signs in racial discord and sullied the view of pastoral-ship. Having witnessed the transformation from men of God to racial hucksters, many look at these prominent figures, two of whom have ridden the coattails of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to fame and fortune, with skepticism.

For those that do not recall, Reverend Jeremiah Wright is best known for his term as minister of Trinity United Church where former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were congregants for over 20 years. To say that Wright was controversial would be an understatement. Wright came under intense national scrutiny for his belief the September 11th attacks were brought about by American state-sponsored terrorism. Wright’s anti-American rhetoric heightened to the point that he stated: “God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.”

After a failed attempt to describe Wright as merely an “old uncle I don’t always agree with,” Obama was forced to distance himself from Wright or risk losing his presidential bid. He and Michelle cited Wright’s views as being antithetical to their own and left Trinity United Church.

In New York, the charlatan Reverend Al Sharpton infamously defended Tawana Brawley in 1987. Brawley, then 15, claimed she had been raped by a group of white men including a former Dutchess County assistant prosecutor and police officers. The whole incident became yet another racial conflict pursued by Sharpton. After an exhaustive investigation carried out by the Attorney General of New York, no evidence emerged to support Brawley’s claim she had been raped. Instead, it was established Brawley had fabricated the entire story in order to avoid punishment by her parents for failing to return home one evening.

Yet, in a January 2023 interview for National Review, Sharpton still stood by Brawley and his racially charged defense of her rape claim. Despite making a career of lies and hate, Sharpton has done well for himself and was later rewarded with a cable network show on MSNBC, PoliticsNation. Most recently, Sharpton came to the defense of Don Lemon after Lemon was fired from CNN. Sharpton demands full transparency because, of course, Don is black and there must be a racial component to his firing.

Then there’s Reverend Jesse Jackson, who neither misses an opportunity to tie himself to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., nor has ever met a camera he didn't like. An opportunist, in 1982, for example, Jackson and his organization Operation PUSH planned a boycott of Anheuser-Busch Companies on the claim the brewing giant had not provided adequate opportunities to increase the number of minority distributorships in the industry. Jackson also claimed that Anheuser-Busch refused to provide employment records to PUSH. Anheuser-Busch recoiled at the accusation, claiming they had provided all records sought and were blindsided by the boycott. Nonetheless, what it really came down to was a shakedown of businessmen to donate $500 each to Operation PUSH. By 1998, Jackson’s sons, Yusef and Jonathan, who had no practical experience in the brewing industry, were in a consortium that was purchasing Anheuser-Busch River North Distributing Investment Capital Corporation.

According to Crain’s Chicago Business: “The deal's financing is unclear, but sources said the Jacksons were asked to put little money down and are relying heavily on bank financing. The brewer offers a long-term buy-in plan to its distributors.”

With such notable black preachers achieving national prominence amid embarrassing controversies, why the incredulity when another black preacher comes forward to claim he wants to help his community?

Unlike Wright, Sharpton, and Jackson, Pastor Corey Brooks, the founder of New Beginnings Church in Chicago’s Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood, has not risen to prominence through an affiliation with the patriarchs of the civil rights movement. Quite the opposite, Brooks has built his ministry using a novel concept called “church planting” learned from the Dallas Theological Seminary. “Church planting” has been his guiding principle since. The basis for “church planting” is to grow a church by cultivating relationships with residents and emphasizing a commitment to the community. The church is founded by using whatever methods necessary to reach those in need of evangelization. Buildings maybe a man-made edifice for congregants to gather each Sunday, but actual evangelization is meeting people and helping the seeds grow in the soil they have been planted.

Rarely at his desk, Pastor Brooks is frequently on the streets counseling youth, meeting in restaurants with former convicts seeking guidance to change, but, more often, ministers to families of loved ones who have suffered irreparable harm from rampant gun violence or drug overdoses on the South Side. Since beginning his work at Doolittle Elementary School in 2000, Brooks has built a strong foundation and his congregation has grown.

New Beginnings has since moved to its current location on South King Drive in Woodlawn where, in addition to church services, it provides much needed mentoring and job training to the community through its Project H.O.O.D. organization (Helping Others Obtain Destiny). This includes providing food to those in need including free groceries to over 2,000 people during the holidays; construction trade training aimed at those needing to fight recidivism; youth programs; and an alternative school for high schoolers.

Project H.O.O.D. also has a violence prevention program, and each summer the group holds a summer camp for community youth. For the summer of 2023, H.O.O.D. is hosting over 200 campers.

In August, Project H.O.O.D. will oversee The World’s Largest Baby Shower. A major event convened to teach parenting skills to young mothers and fathers; the function also dispenses donated items from baby shampoo and diapers to cribs and baby swings. As Pastor Brooks notes:

“Above all, the baby shower serves as a beacon of hope, inspiring positive change in the lives of families on the South Side. By creating an atmosphere of celebration, love, and support, we encourage individuals to believe in their own potential and work together to create a brighter future for their children and the community as a whole.”

Of all the successes of New Beginnings Church and Project H.O.O.D., none have come without sacrifice. Initially, Brooks and his family sold their house and moved into an apartment to help raise enough money for a down payment on the church building. They used their retirement funds and monies set aside for their young children’s college education. Still facing a shortfall to build the church, Brooks and his wife pawned their wedding rings to raise further funds. Church attendees donated, prayed, and marched in all sorts of weather to solicit contributions. Miraculously, Brooks and his flock eventually reached their goal.

Brooks next set his sights on raising capital to purchase and demolish the hotel directly across the street from New Beginnings Church that had become a haven for prostitution, drug sales, and gang activity. Determined to buy the land, Pastor Brooks became The Rooftop Pastor. Far from a cheap stunt, Brooks spent over three months on the top of the shuttered Super Motel to raise the $450,000 needed to purchase the building. During his time on the roof, he drew local and national attention, often meeting with civil rights leaders to discuss the problems ravaging the South Side. Brooks’ campaign was successful and the hotel was torn down.

Not resting on his laurels on the purchase of the shuttered building, Brooks set the ambitious goal of raising enough money to turn that abandoned lot into what will become an 89,000 square-foot Leadership & Economic Opportunity Center. Once again, Pastor Brooks lived on a “roof” of stacked shipping crates until he could raise $35 million, which would be the cost for the center to be built debt free. From his rooftop, he granted interviews and with Fox News held a string of discussions that became known as Rooftop Revelations. In these five-minute segments, Brooks would discuss current events or interview CEOs, local clergy, and notable figures such as Bob Woodson. Brooks dedication led to significant contributions from Ken Griffin and donations of building material from Ozinga. Brooks raised approximately $30 million in just under a year, and he is still accepting donations. The community center is expected to break ground in July.

A man of great vision and optimism for the South Side, Brooks continues to expand his church’s horizons: He is already planning the creation of an all-boys school that would center on a more classical education. A man constantly on the move, when not seated for podcasts, television or radio interviews to promote his church, Brooks can be found taking seminars to learn how to stretch his influence and increase the faithful.

As he continues his work building his church, Brooks is also writing a book and contemplating starting his own podcast. The goal of the book, podcast, and social media presence is to keep the focus on the issues plaguing Chicago’s South Side and around the country from both spiritual and cultural perspectives with doses of humor. To Brooks, without a consistent, intentional presence, residents on the South Side facing poverty and a lack of opportunity will be ignored. Though it is easy to be skeptical of and paint evangelists negatively — especially black pastors — with a broad brush, for many have disappointed in the past, Pastor Corey Brooks is helping others obtain destiny every day with his dedicated team of workers and volunteers. Is Pastor Brooks legitimate? He most certainly is.

With mistrust surrounding the sincerity of so many urban clergy, it is fair to ask: Where is Mayor Brandon Johnson or Governor J.B. Pritzker to offer support for Brooks’ ministry? Assuredly, both Pritzker and Johnson should be interested in what Pastor Brooks has achieved and what he is trying to accomplish. The duo talk a great deal about the plight of the impoverished and finding ways to help those in untenable situations. Yet neither Pritzker nor Johnson have publicly recognized or commended what New Beginnings Church or Project H.O.O.D. has accomplished.

If you wonder why, it is not difficult to assess: Brooks is a conservative living in a progressive city. Unlike Wright, Jackson, Sharpton, Pritzker, and Johnson, Brooks believes upward mobility is achieved through personal industry, completing an education, and acquiring economic opportunity, not dependency on government largesse. Unlike the race hustling clergy and left-wing politicians, Brooks does not see race as a detriment to socioeconomic mobility. Instead, Brooks rejects the use of race as an excuse for immobility and is a strident advocate of personal accountability. Moreover, in contrast to clergy and progressive lawmakers, Brooks is a firm believer in market capitalism as the foremost economic system to uplift and create individual and generational wealth. While Brooks believes in being accountable for one’s actions, he also asserts a second chance is due to those who stumble in life or commit errors of judgment.

Parkway Gardens is often the site of criminal activity, but to Pastor Brooks, violence is not the root of the problems; it is merely a symptom. In Brooks’ view, a shortage of male role models and fathers causes generational misdirection. This condition, Brooks insists, leaves children seeking out a family structure — no matter how dysfunctional. This need to satisfy a natural sense of belonging drives children toward gangs. This perpetual cycle of hopelessness needs to be thwarted, Brooks says.

Pastor Corey Brooks is not Jesus incarnate. A man possessed with the virtue of humility, Brooks often states his ministry’s triumphs are the result of collective effort, but acknowledges as head of the church he will face public rebuke if his organization falters. A man who brushes aside fame or publicity, Brooks has turned down invitations to seek public office. Believing that God has a specific purpose for his life, Brooks is focusing his efforts on what he has promised his community and is working diligently to deliver.

As Brooks wrote: “I want the church world to know that we are the conduit for change. I want pastors, ministry leaders, and laypeople to embrace not just the desire to change the neighborhood and the world around you, but embrace God given methods to bring about change.” He challenges all of us to use whatever God given talents we have to assist in creating a transformation of the South Side, for there is a connection between us as citizens and human beings.

Dreams can only become reality if we recognize the problem, have organized leadership, and work together to germinate seeds of renewal. If you are doubtful, see the fruits of Pastor Brooks’ labor and observe who has committed themselves to Brooks’ cause. You will become a believer and, hopefully, a volunteer or donor.

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