Rev. Corey Brooks has literally taken his battle of calling for safer urban communities from the rooftop of a now-demolished hotel to a cross country walking crusade. The New Beginnings Church Chicago pastor returned to his South Side pulpit and community — on a pit stop from his New York to Los Angeles walk–for a fundraiser and community rally.
Dozens of church and community members, civic leaders and others joined Brooks and several of his minister friends, the mayor and the governor for the rally which was held across the street from the church. A fundraiser dinner had been held the night before.
Brooks gained local and national attention last winter after he spent three months camped out on the roof of the former Super Motel, the site of Sunday’s rally, looking then to raise $450,000 to buy the building and tear it down. He got the money, along with a lot of encouragement citywide. He quickly set his sights on his subsequent goal: build a community center for the crime-plagued Woodlawn area.
Brooks was in town also to raise money. He got a boost Sunday from Walgreens who presented the pastor with a $25,000 matching-funds donation. With every dollar donated to the pastor as he walks across the nation, Walgreens will match it dollar-for-dollar up to $25,000. Brooks is trying to raise $15 million for the community center.
Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel supported Brooks when he was on the rooftop and they stood in solidarity — and in the 90-plus degree heat — Sunday, speaking at the rally and then walking with Brooks from his church, 6620 S. King Drive, to Navy Pier.
“This is a pastor who cares about people; he shows that by very fiber of his body. Whether it’s the cold of winter or the heat of the summer Pastor Brooks understands how to help everyday people – especially fighting the violence,” Quinn told the Chicago Citizen before the start of the rally.
Brooks addressed the crowd before he stepped out for what turned out to be a four-hour, 11-mile walk from the church to Navy Pier. He admonished residents to join the fight to help curb gun and gang violence and echoed other speakers’ saying the issue was a shared one.
“It’s not just one particular person who is to blame,” Brooks said about crime and violence. “We have to stop ganging up on each other and start ganging up on the problem.”
Overall crime is down in Chicago, city officials point out, but homicides and gun violence are on the uptick. The mayor has announced a string of crime-combatting strategies since the start of the year. While the police chief has said those strategies have been successful, many in the community have expressed concern that the shootings and killings continue, with daily reports of gunfire and several children already getting caught in the crossfire.
Last week, two girls, a teen and her pre-teen friend, were struck by bullets as they walked home from a nearby community center in the Pullman community. Last month, a 7-year-old Austin community girl was gunned down near her home after spending her day selling candy and snow cones there.
This past weekend saw over one dozen people wounded by gunfire, including one teen each on the South and West Sides. Four people were killed.
“Right here in Chicago we’re in the heart of Heartland, the heart of America. We’ve got to send a message to everybody across America that we’re fighting the violence,” said Quinn.
The mayor has repeatedly called on pastors and churches to be aids in communities’ fight to ameliorate drug dealing and gang banging, which the mayor and police chief have publicly and continuously blamed for most of the city’s violence — including shooting deaths.
Sunday Emanuel said Brooks’ walk to Navy Pier and his coast-to-coast traverse for the sake of community peace is “our collective journey.”
“It’s real simple, we’ve got to get the guns out of the street and values in (people’s) heart,” he said. “All across this city we have good, God-fearing people trying to do right by their kids. We will not rest until the children of Roseland are as safe as the children of Ravenswood. We will not rest until the kids of Woodlawn are as safe as the kids of Wildwood. And we will not rest until the kids of the Back of the Yards are as safe as the kids of Beverly; Auburn-Gresham and Andersonville. … We will win this battle if we all see it as part of our struggle.”
Brooks’ 3,000-plus mile walk is expected to be complete in October.
By Rhonda Gillespie