After spending 94 days sleeping on the roof of an abandoned South Side motel community activist Corey Brooks Sr. is no longer dreaming about building a community center but has now taken steps to make it a reality.
The 34 year-old pastor of New Beginnings Church, 6620 S. King Drive, said his quest to rid the Woodlawn community on the South Side of drugs, prostitution and youth violence continues despite raising the $450,000 needed to purchase the motel’s land and demolish the building.
“We’re going to tear a building down today,” Brooks said Tuesday as construction crews demolished the Super Motel at 6625 S. King Drive. “Tearing this down, for us, represents our hopes being ready to go up, and a lot of faith being put into something, and a major thing being accomplished.”
The $15 million community center he aims to build for the community will give youth an alternative to the streets and force drug dealers, gang bangers and prostitutes to find somewhere else to hang out besides the local motel.
“The Woodlawn community does not need anymore hourly motels. It needs jobs, after school programs for youth and economic development,” explained Brooks. “I want our children to have a safe place besides home to go to after school. I want people to be able to shop in their own neighborhood at stores that offer quality merchandise and services and I want residents to be able to get the social services they need without being discouraged because they must travel far to receive help.”
However, the Best Motel is another hourly motel in the area and located one block from the church at 6535 S. King Drive. Brooks, 34, said if necessary he and church members would picket outside the Best motel and any other establishment that houses what he described as “community killers.”
And after coming down from the motel’s rooftop on Feb. 27 Brooks said he returned to his tent on the roof one last time before the building was torn down this week.
“(I went back up) because I felt like I’d gotten away from the fundamental principles of just having patience, and meditating every day, and praying every day,” he added.
The community activist, who is a husband and father of four, began his journey sleeping on the roof last November after one black youth after another was murdered including one in front of his church.
Originally, Brooks had planned on sleeping on the roof for 21-days but ended up staying for three moths. By doing so, Brooks was unable to spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and Black History Month (in February) with his family.
But if he had to do it all over again Brooks said absolutely.
“It is a sacrifice I would do all over again. If this is what it takes to save our young, black males from being murdered or sent to prison, then that it what I am prepared to do no matter how long it takes,” Brooks added.
The unusual warm weather Chicago experienced this winter made it easier for Brooks to sleep in a heated tent on the roof, although he did come down from the roof once to perform a funeral for a church member and another time to go to the hospital when he fell ill.
His efforts encouraged other community activists to briefly join him in sleeping outside. In December eight, black members of Occupy Chicago, a protest group, joined Brooks by sleeping in tents on the sidewalk adjacent to the motel.
Thomas Turner was among the eight who joined Brooks.
“We are here to show our support of Pastor Brooks and to let him know he is not in this struggle to save our communities alone,” Turner said. “History shows that blacks had to stand alone during slavery. So there’s no reason for us to still be standing alone when we have a cause worth fighting for.”
The community center will serve as more than just a safe haven for youth but will also include a private, elementary school, a social service center, retail stores, and a youth educational center. New Beginnings Church already has 75 elementary students attending its Master’s Academy Elementary School located inside the 2,500-member church, and plans to move the school into the community center after it is built.
And the church’s Project HOOD (Helping Others Obtain Destiny) program is spearheading the redevelopment project, which Brooks said would ultimately improve living conditions for local residents. There is no timetable on when the center will be built in part because funding has not yet been secured.
One person Brooks can count on for support is his good friend the Rev. James Meeks, pastor of Salem Baptist Church on the South Side. Meeks, who is also a Democratic state Senator, said more black communities need community centers and he will do what he can to help Brooks bring one to his community.
“I want to help him make this one of the best community centers on the South Side. He has the ambition and drive to do it and I am going to support him all the way until the end,” Meeks added.