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Fellowship event features 'lessons from the rooftop'

Pastor Corey Brooks, the founder of New Beginnings Church on Chicago's South Side, headlined The Illinois Association of Christian Administrators’ fellowship session on Saturday morning with stories from his parish in the city’s tough Woodlawn neighborhood.

Brooks gained national attention as the “rooftop pastor” in 2011-12 when he spent 94 days in deep winter living in a tent on the roof of an abandoned motel across the street from his church.  

“My goal in going up to that roof to live was to raise $450,000 to tear down the motel that once had been home to prostitutes, drug addicts, and criminals, and replace it with a community center,” he said. He succeeded in gaining the funds to buy and demolish the motel and then in 2012 embarked on a walk across America to raise money to build the community center.

Brooks said he is still far short of the $20 million he estimates is needed to construct the center, but his efforts continue. He adds that three months living on the roof of the Super Motel brought him inspiration and hope.

Brooks long had wanted to buy the run-down motor hotel, he notes, but the property was listed at $450,000. Where was a preacher going to find that kind of money? He says he “just looked up” and found the inspiration.

From the rooftop, Pastor Brooks received many visitors and maintained his community connections, listening to the radio, receiving visitors via a construction lift on the building’s exterior, even live-streaming sermons via the internet to the church sanctuary from his lofty perch.

“To everyone who came to visit me, I made it very clear that no one should have to be on a roof to bring attention and awareness,” he says. "For us to have to do this much for the message to get out was ridiculous," Brooks said.

His ascension to the rooftop appeared on the news so often – in newspapers, and on national radio and TV – that a few critics even suggested he was a publicity hound.

But after 94 days and a $100,000 gift from actor-producer Tyler Perry, Brooks said, he was finally able to reach his goal and willing to descend from the roof. Through his 2,500-member church, he continues to kindle public concern while providing needed public services. New Beginnings hosts a small school, a public gym, and a mentoring program for youths coming out of the juvenile justice system.

Brooks says he also personally engages with warring street gangs to seek peace. But all too frequently he has had to conduct funerals for slain gang members. In fact, he said, it was after one such funeral, and after a successful gun-collection plea he made to gang members, that he felt inspired enough to hatch the idea of going on that motel roof.

“It was winter but I had faith I would be able to live up there long enough to draw attention to the need to remove that building,” he said. “For I knew God would provide.” Brooks notes that the winter that followed was mild, the mildest in 20 years. “I believe it was no accident,” he concluded.

This was the third year of the Saturday morning fellowship session at the school leadership conference. The Illinois Association of Christian Administrators, which sponsored Brooks’ appearance, exists to provide a network of support and spiritual growth for school leaders. It follows the philosophy of the “16-9 Movement,” or legal and graceful Christians in the public schools.

This year’s session also included an invocation by Calvin Jackson, an Illinois Association of School Business Officials’ legislative consultant and a former school district superintendent.


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