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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.”