Sleeping atop shuttered motel, pastor rails against violence

By Manya A. Brachear

Chicago Tribune

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 14 2011 5:00 a.m. MST

At 19, he met a woman who wouldn't date him unless he attended church. So he went one Sunday for her sake, listened to what the preacher said for the first time in his life, and decided to follow his conviction that he had been called to be a preacher himself.

He eventually graduated from Ball State University and earned a Master of Arts in Ministry Studies at Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Ind.

After serving two other congregations, Brooks founded New Beginnings in 2000 as a church for those seeking a fresh start and a clean slate after tough times in their lives. The church building is the former Roberts' Show Lounge, once one of Chicago's legendary South Side destinations for jazz.

"I wanted a new beginning myself," said Brooks. "There are a whole lot of people looking to start over."

In the summer of 2010, he and members of his congregation envisioned a new beginning for the seedy motel across the street that rented rooms to prostitutes and drug dealers. They picketed every weekend for four months until the city shut it down.

Members envision a campus where young people can play sports and nurture their artistic talents, and families can learn to manage their finances, cook nutritious meals, resolve conflicts and get medical care. The church eventually wants to extend its elementary school, Master's Academy, through 12th grade, said Brooks' wife Delilah.

"We're trying to tackle a lot of social giants in our particular place," Brooks said.

Brooks has continued to preach to his congregation from the roof through a live Web Stream every Sunday at 10 a.m. and noon. During the week, colleagues handle the day-to-day business of the church so Brooks can focus on his vigil and the events that led him to the roof.

The Rev. Stephen Nance, minister of outreach, said he doesn't mind filling in for Brooks while he's on the roof. He appreciates how Brooks has "put himself out front to encourage other ministers to get involved in others' lives."

Meanwhile, the tent has become Brooks' private sanctuary where he is able to tune out the daily distractions.

"You get desensitized to young people being killed. You become numb to it," he said. "Being up here has helped me realize, it's not normal."

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