Pastor Corey Brooks spent three months in the bitter cold, camping out on the roof of a dilapidated motel amid the ever-present gunfire in his neigborhood on the South Side of Chicago.
His goal: raise enough money to buy the building, then demolish it to make way for a future community center "where people can learn to flourish, and not fail."
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He then walked across the country to raise money for the new building -- a $15 million fundraising goal that's still in progress, but targeted for completion by the end of the year.
Like the words and actions of Martin Luther King Jr., Brooks says he's learned how to take a stand.
The 44-year-old preacher from New Beginnings Church in Chicago came to Carol Stream Monday and implored attendees of the village's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration to do the same in their lives -- whether it's in their community or in the world.
"On the South Side of Chicago right now, young people are being shot and killed every single day. My heart pains for the people in Aurora, Colo., who lost their lives in the theater, and the people who lost children in Connecticut. But how can you be so close to a city where kids are dying everyday and you not care?" Brooks said during a speech at the Wheaton Christian Center on North Avenue.
"On the day we celebrate Dr. King's birthday, it's a call to action. In Carol Stream there's something you can do to help lives become better and help people fulfill their dreams. You decide to take a stand. Today we take a stand to make a difference in someone's life."
Brooks came to Chicago from Kenton, Tenn., 17 years ago. Five years later, he started his nondenominational church in Chicago's Woodlawn neighborhood. At the time, he had some 250 members, but today, the congregation has grown to 3,000 -- all while Brooks has grabbed headlines as the "rooftop pastor" speaking out about the prevalence of gun violence on the South Side.
In 2011, Brooks presided over the funerals of 11 black males under the age of 25 who had been shot to death. At the most recent funeral last November, gunshots were fired outside the church just before the service was to begin. Brooks said he "knew in his gut" that people had brought guns inside the church, and after his eulogy, he told anyone who had a weapon to stand up, and leave it behind on their pews.
Four young men did so.
"I thought at that moment, what has our community come to, when kids would bring their guns to church," Brooks said. "(I told God), I'm putting it all on the line. I can't be a pastor in this community and not do something."
During his cross-country journey last summer to promote the building of the community center, Brooks said he felt every day like he wanted to quit. But he says he kept telling himself "that quitters never meet their goal."
Through his nonprofit Project Hood organization, Brooks has only secured $550,000 of the total $15 million goal, but said he has some major donors lined up, while he continues to host fundraisers and do more speaking engagements beyond the South Side.
And so his journey continues, Brooks says, guided by the words of King who said, "If you don't take a stand for something, you will fall for anything."
"It's all about doing something that maybe no one else is willing to do," Brooks said. "Why wait for someone else to do the things you are expected to do? We are expected to be world-changers and fight against injustices -- whether it's in Carol Stream or on the South Side of Chicago."