CHICAGO – Pastor Corey Brooks woke up Christmas morning with a story he wished to share with his readers. Saturday marks the 35th day of his 100-day rooftop vigil to reduce violence by building a community center that will increase the equality of opportunity for those living on the South Side of Chicago.
What follows has been lightly edited. We strongly encourage you to watch the accompanying video so you may hear the pastor in his own words.
I woke up this morning thinking that I wanted to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. First of all, I want to say, thank you so much to all of you from all across the country who have been giving, who have been supporting and showing us nothing but love. My heart has been overjoyed as a result of all that you have done for us.
I realize that we are here in Chicago and that you don't have to help us, but that's why I love about being an American citizen. When all of us come together, there's absolutely nothing that we cannot accomplish.
I was thinking about Christmas and I was thinking about my first Christmas, especially during this season when I'm away from home and away from family. My mind went back to the first Christmas that I can really remember. Anybody who knows me knows I can't remember a lot about my childhood, but there's one specific Christmas that I do remember.
I was 7 years old. And, mind you, I never asked my mother for any Christmas gifts in all of my life, because I understood that we were in poverty. I understood that we didn't have a lot of money. So I never asked for Christmas gifts, even when I became a teenager.
I remember being seven years old when my mother, a single parent, bought me three toys.
One of them was a yellow Tonka truck. And, back in the day, you had to roll the Tonka truck and you had to manually lift the lift and dump stuff out of it. Maybe that's why I love trucks to this day. I'm a good old country boy.
I remember the other gift was a sheriff's outfit, if you can believe that. And it had the cowboy hat, it had the cowboy boots, it had the little over-pants that went over your pants. And it had the sheriff's jacket, a nice sheriff's badge, and I never will forget how much I loved those little cap guns.
But there was one gift that I remember that I want to tell you about. It was a Bozo the Clown. I can remember having to blow that Bozo the Clown up. It took me and my cousin Eric all day long, blowing and blowing. It was not like today where they got a button you push and it just blows back up. Back then, we spent all day blowing it up.
We finally got Bozo blown up, and there he was, standing about four and a half feet off the ground. He had a big old Kool-Aid smile. And I'm gonna tell you, that's where I learned how to throw some of my most vicious shots.
I learned how to throw overhand rights. I’m a southpaw, and I learned how to do a nice left-hand jab, and I learned how to throw a hook and an upper cut and a combination.
I can remember me and my cousin, we would double-team Bozo. One day, we beat him down so bad. But here's what I remember about him. Every time, I would hit him with a right, he'd go down, he'd come back up. I hit him with left, he’d go down, he’d come back up. I hit him with combinations, he'd go down, but he'd come back up.
It took me a long time — I wasn't that smart of a kid — to find out the secret to Bozo's success. Bozo had something way down on the inside that, regardless of what you did on the outside, he always bounced back up. And he always had that big Kool-Aid smile.
Listen, it's been a tough year for a lot of people. Life has been hitting you and knocking you down. But the resiliency of being an American says that we have so much in us, so much determination, so much strength, so much resiliency, so much pride that even though we get knocked down sometimes, we always bounce back up and we do it with a big smile.
I wanna wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas. And even though you've been knocked down, remember you can bounce back. Merry Christmas and, as always, peace.
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Eli Steele is a documentary filmmaker and writer. His latest film is "What Killed Michael Brown?" Twitter: @Hebro_Steele.
Camera by Terrell Allen