CHICAGO – When Pastor Corey Brooks set up his church in the Woodlawn neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago more than 20 years ago, one of his adversaries was the doubters. They groused that the area was a lost cause and that he could not save everyone. He didn’t listen and opened the church. The doubters continued to nip at his heels, reminding him that he was a fool and that he could not save everyone. He didn’t listen as he reduced violence in the neighborhood and helped countless individuals transform their lives for the better. No matter how much he achieved, it was never enough to quiet the doubters.
When the pastor recently began his 100-day rooftop vigil in the biting cold weather with the goal of raising millions for a much-needed community center, the doubters renewed their grousing.
The pastor said he received an email that said, "Who do you think you are? Don’t you think $35 million is too much for a center? And don’t you know you can’t save everybody?"
The pastor sighed.
"I realized at that moment, everybody isn’t for you, everybody isn’t gonna cheer for you, everybody isn’t going to applaud you," said the pastor. "There are gonna be times when people are just outright haters, and they don’t want the best for you or the community. And you can let that stop you, or you can let it motivate you."
The pastor knew that doubt functions as a double-edged sword. The negative words can wear down a soul like sand wears down even the toughest of stones. Or the negative words can be converted into fuel, strengthening the individual’s resolve to continue forward.
"As soon as I read that email, I was a little downtrodden until I remembered a story about an old man who was walking along the seashore," the pastor said. The old man came upon "all of these starfish, thousands upon thousands upon thousands had washed up on the shore. And this old man was walking down the seashore, picking them up one at a time, throwing them back in the sea."
The pastor gestured as if he himself was throwing the starfish back into the sea, over and over.
"This person saw what [the old man] was doing and said, ‘You are a stupid old man … all of those starfish have washed up on the shore, and who do you think you are? You can’t save all those starfish,’" the pastor said.
He steeled himself against the doubter before continuing: "And the old man looked at him and said, you know what? You're right. But at least I can save this one."
With that, the pastor pantomimed throwing a starfish far into the safety of the great sea.
"We may not be able to save everybody on the South Side of Chicago. We may not be able to impact everyone’s life," the pastor confided. "But there are some people that we are going to reach. There are some lives that are going to be changed."
"And even if it’s just that one little boy who’s without a father, that one little boy who’s looking for guidance, even if it’s just that one little girl whose mom has been lost in the world and she finds herself troubled, trying to find her way, we will save just that one," the pastor continued.
And that is a life that the doubters will never save.
For more information, please visit Project H.O.O.D.
Eli Steele is a documentary filmmaker and writer. His latest film is "What Killed Michael Brown?" Twitter: @Hebro_Steele.
Camera by Terrell Allen.