By Justin Breen,
Corey Brooks believes that if Americans can back fundraisers to build a border wall and other fundraisers for ladders to climb over that wall, then certainly Americans will back a fundraiser created to save other American lives.
Brooks, a Kenton native, is the founder and executive director of Chicago-based nonprofit Project H.O.O.D. and has created a $25 million GoFundMe campaign to help build a community center in the Woodlawn neighborhood. The GoFundMe campaign, Americans Against Violence, began on Dec. 21 and has already raised more than $1.3 million.
“Once we saw the campaigns for building a wall [which has raised more than $18 million as of Jan. 2] and one to build ladders to climb the wall [which has raised nearly $160,000] – if Americans can give money to build walls and ladders to climb those walls, then surely Americans can give to keep people alive,” Brooks said. “Our mission is to stop senseless violence. We have made tremendous inroads and this center will broaden our impact.”
Brooks discussed his plan from the Project H.O.O.D. training center, where community meetings, entrepreneur classes and construction classes already take place on a routine basis. The community center would be built a few blocks south, where Brooks’ raised enough money to tear down a crime-ridden motel and purchased the land.
The goals of the center would be to increase the high school graduation rate of at-risk youth by providing resources, increase job placements through targeting job training programs, reduce crime by increasing the employment rate and reducing the school dropout rates, and improve the overall community by providing an inclusive center that is a symbol of hope and progress.
“One of the reasons we have so much violence in our neighborhood is that it’s so economically deprived,” said Brooks, who lives in Woodlawn. “This center would not only help the community economically, but it would help get rid of the violence. My passion comes from wanting to see people have opportunities that normally and typically they wouldn’t have. The idea of helping those individuals is what really lights my fire.”
Brooks, who turned 50 on Jan. 9, has always worked to make his dreams come true. He grew up in a bathroom-less home in one-stoplight Kenton – population 1,251 – before moving to Muncie, Ind. in his teens. He was the first in his family to graduate from college when he received his bachelor’s degree from Ball State University in 1991.
As pastor of New Beginnings Church, which he founded in 2000, Brooks has helped grow the congregation’s membership from 250 to more than 2,000 currently. Fed up with the community’s isolation from the larger society and to draw attention to the violence in Chicago, Brooks lived on the roof of a crime-ridden motel for 94 days and walked across America from New York to Los Angeles over a four-month period.
“I’ve always been a dreamer because I grew up impoverished and I always wanted more,” Brooks said. “And I believe God has guided me without a shadow of a doubt. There’s no way a country boy from Kenton, Tennessee who grew up in Muncie could come to Chicago in one of the toughest areas and fit right in without God’s help. I’ve always wanted to make the impossible possible.”
Project H.O.O.D. was established in 2012 and Brooks said since then he envisions at least twice a week what he will say during his speech at the community center’s opening. “I’ll start crying if I tell you what I say,” Brooks said. “I just know we have to have a vehicle like this to deal with the community’s issues. If more Americans knew the work we are doing and the impact we are having, they would surely help.”
For more information on the Project H.O.O.D. GoFundMe campaign, Americans Against Violence, or to donate, visit https://www.gofundme.com/violence-chicago-southside.