Chicago Opens New Opportunity Center

Source: Baptist Press

Growing up in America’s inner cities is difficult.

“We have so many children who don’t know how to ride bikes, jump rope, play volleyball or other activities because of society today in our low-poverty communities,” said Chicago resident Latanya Wells. Youngsters don’t know how to do kid-centric outdoor activities because other adults like her say, “I’m afraid to have my grandson outside. We don’t have safe streets, sidewalks, parks or any place outside.”

As a result, many children stay inside to avoid the pitfalls of gangs and drug related activities that proliferate in many neighborhoods.

Born and raised in Chicago, Wells is the mother of five daughters, who lost her husband in 2007 as a result of gang related violence. In a city of nearly 9 million people, with an approximate 40 percent unemployment rate and 20 percent poverty rate, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, life for Wells has been difficult.

Reminiscing on his childhood experiences, filmmaker Shelby Steele said, before the mid-1960s, African Americans in segregated Chicago had a greater sense of pride and community.

“I never saw a fistfight. I never heard a gunshot, until I was 18,” Steele said in a Rooftop Revelations video conversation on

Seeking to address inner city needs, Pastor Corey Brooks of the Southern Baptist New Beginnings Church and Steele have partnered to launch the Leadership and Economic Opportunity Center.

Steele said he believes well-meaning programs meant to address poverty have resulted in dependency and hopelessness in people who see no way out of their circumstances.

Starting with a goal of raising $35 million for the Opportunity Center within 100 days, after just three days Brooks announced he was not going to leave the rooftop until sufficient funds could be raised.

Motivated by passage in the book of Nehemiah, Brooks said, “The passage where he [Nehemiah] says I am doing a great work and can’t come down really stayed in my spirit…I have stopped focusing on [asking] individuals to be part of this, and put all my focus on God. I pray people don’t give a dollar more or less than God asks them to.”

Soon, others like Bill O’Kane began supporting Brooks by joining him on the roof to help raise awareness.

“I think he’s trying to help fix the world,” O’Kane told Baptist Press. “I think he’s a good guy. He’s real.” The men talked for about four hours one night before calling it a night and retreating to Brooks’ four-person waterproof tent.

Once opened, the new Leadership and Economic Opportunity Center will include a vocational school, entrepreneurial and digital center, gymnasium, fitness center, swimming pool, theater/music/arts center, health and wellness center, safe social gathering spaces and more.

“In our community – 80 percent of Woodland adults are single parents – one of the reasons we have so much crime is a lack of opportunity and lack of businesses,” Brooks said. “We’ll also have a trauma center to help people deal with what they’ve gone through. A lot of kids have had friends and family members killed, and they’ve never dealt with the trauma.”

O’Kane plans to ask construction companies to help lessen costs for the Opportunity Center.

“Nobody succeeds alone,” O’Kane said. “If everybody pitches in, that’s how you get stuff done.”

Currently, Brooks is continuing to raise funds until the end of the month and plans to open the new center in the spring of 2023.

Source: Baptist Press