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Rooftop pastor is back ­— but on the ground

The Rev. Corey Brooks steps out his tent where he supporters are camping out 6600 block S. King Drive raise

The Rev. Corey Brooks steps out of his tent where he and supporters are camping out at the 6600 block of S. King Drive to raise funds for a community center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 25, 2012 6:23AM

The “rooftop pastor” is back, but this time he’s on the ground.

A year ago, the Rev. Corey Brooks went up to the roof of a dilapidated motel across the street from his Woodlawn neighborhood church and he stayed up there 94 days until he raised $450,000 to buy and demolish the building.

Now a gravel lot remains at 66th Street and King Drive where the building once stood. Until at least Sunday, Brooks and a group of supporters will be at the site camping out in tents to again raise money and call attention to violence plaguing the city.

Brooks, the founder of New Beginnings Church, wants to raise $15 million to build a community center where the motel once stood. So far, he has raised $500,000, he said.

“A lot of people think it will take years and years, but I don’t want it to take years,” he said inside his tent, his frosty breath visible as temperatures plunged into the low 30s Friday afternoon. “The longer we take, the more kids are being killed — dying in the streets.”

Brooks and a group of about 15 supporters pitched tents on the lot on Thursday, after Thanksgiving dinner. The pastor initially planned to stay 72 hours — until 6 p.m. Sunday — but now he’s considering staying longer — and he’s not discounting again spending months in the tent because he is “really humbled” by support he’s received the last two days.

“I don’t want to do it again, but I will,” he said, though first he’ll need to discuss it with his family.

Among those who camped out with Brooks was Catherine Sims and her small dog, Peachie.

“We’re just hoping everyone is hearing our plea,” Sims, 54, said as tears rolled down her cheeks. “We’re begging for help.”

Sims and the other campers wore warm layers and huddled inside their sleeping bags to keep warm.

Ron Bellamy, an elder at the church, even slept with his boots on.

“It’s really for the cause,” said the 63-year-old Vietnam vet and retired Marshall High School Principal. “Everybody has a piece to do.”

Brooks is known for bringing attention to violence. In June, he began a walk across the country and returned home in October.

“No children should have to live . . . afraid of being shot, afraid of going out to play,” Brooks said.

His supporters know he’s out there again. On Friday, drivers honked and people stopped by to chat with Brooks under the green glow of his tent, where he spends most of his time texting and Tweeting.

At night, he says, he hears gunshots. “The first thing that comes to my mind is who got shot?” the pastor said.

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