Pastor Corey Brooks made a vow to God eleven years ago that changed his life forever.
“Listen, God, whatever you want me to do to try to transform this neighborhood into a community, I am all in,” he said.
Brooks, who is the founder of New Beginnings Church in southside Chicago, gave a speech called “The Quest for Community in Urban America” in Christ Chapel on Nov. 9. He highlighted the importance of building communities in America’s neighborhoods, which he said often foster an “us versus them” mentality.
“Community transcends the partisan divide,” Brooks said. “Being able to relate to someone as a fellow human being or a fellow child of God reduces that toxic, political battle that we see so often.”
Senior Greta Dornbrier, who attended the talk, said she agreed with Brooks’ assessment of American neighborhoods.
“He’s so right that most of America exists in neighborhoods without true connection and love,” she said. “I loved that he said we can heal that disconnection through community, which is also affirming because that’s part of the vision I’ve caught from my time at Hillsdale. It makes me excited to build community where God places me after college.”
Brooks moved to Chicago in 1995. He said he immediately noticed that a lack of community was the source of the many problems his neighborhood, one of the most dangerous in the country, was facing.
“In the absence of community you’re going to find gangs, you’re going to find neighborhoods that have been overtaken,” he said. “Even in broad daylight, the homicide rate was sky-high and drugs were rampant.”
The widespread crime and human misery that Brooks encountered in his southside neighborhood drove him to action. The center of neighborhood crime, according to Brooks, was an old motel used for drug deals and prostitution. Brooks decided to make a statement: he would sleep on the roof of the motel, in the midst of a harsh Chicago winter, until he could raise enough money to replace it.
“I went on the roof of that motel and I refused to come down because I wanted to make sure that we turned this neighborhood, where people were trying to escape, into a community where relationships could be built,” he said.
After 97 freezing nights, Brooks achieved his goal.
“We eventually raised enough money to tear the motel down,” he said. “While I was up there, I started really thinking about all the ways that we could change the neighborhood from being a dark, dirty, dangerous place to a vibrant community for children to play in.”
Brooks’ idea would become Project H.O.O.D. — “Helping Others Obtain Destiny.” Through Project H.O.O.D, Brooks ministers to thousands of families.
“The neighborhood has been completely transformed,” Brooks said.
According to Brooks, Project H.O.O.D. provides opportunities for young people who would ordinarily have turned to gangs. The projects range from construction and electrical training to an alternative school for 16-to-21 year olds who were expelled from other schools.
“We took three of the four major gangs in our neighborhood and we trained them, we developed them, we taught them conflict resolution, and we taught them to take responsibility for their lives,” Brooks said.
Freshman Ethan Graham said that Brooks encouraged him to start thinking about community at Hillsdale.
“Pastor Brooks’ testimony was really inspiring and edifying,” he said. “It’s wonderful to see how much change God can bring to people through someone willing to do his work.”