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CHICAGO – It has been nearly a year since Pastor Corey Brooks began his rooftop vigil to end gun violence and to raise funds to build his community center. So far, he has raised $20 million. On the 281st day on the roof, he hosted two guests from Twin Cities: civic leader Imam Tawakal Ismail and his friend and interpreter, Faisal Deri. They met to discuss the troubles in their communities and how they may revitalize the American dream.
What follows has been lightly edited. We strongly encourage you to watch the accompanying video so you may hear the pastor and his guests in their own words.
I’m still on this rooftop, but I’ve got incredible news. It hasn’t quite been a year, but we’ve raised nearly $20 million. That’s right. 20 million. Can you imagine where we would be if we hadn’t come up on this roof or if I had given up after the first 100 days? We haven’t met our $35 million goal yet and we’re still aiming for that.
But guess what? We’re going to break ground on Oct. 29. Our community cannot wait any longer. It is our opportunity to change O-Block into Opportunity Block, to make this the block where people’s lives are changed. That is why I reached out to Fox News, which has been so incredibly supportive of our efforts, and told them I wanted to do another Rooftop Revelation.
I was recently contacted by the imam of the Somali community in Minneapolis. And I admit my first thought was, “What does the Somali community have to do with mine?” That was a very narrow way of thinking. Remember, that was only my first thought.
As I spoke with the imam, I realized that the struggles that they were facing in their community were also the same struggles as we were facing here in Chicago. We are being held hostage to woke city governments more interested in pursuing so-called woke reforms instead of actual reforms. After George Floyd was murdered, many folks in the Somali community thought the promised reforms would make things better. But they soon found out, just like all of us, that violence went up, education went down, business is suffering, and on and on and on.
While our problems on the South Side have been going on since the ’60s, we realize that there is strength to be had in connecting with struggling communities in other cities. Perhaps this will force the leaders who feel that they can ignore us to start paying attention. After all, politicians care more about numbers than they do about people — that’s what some people say. So, if we can increase our numbers, maybe we can awaken them to the fact that their continual ignoring of our plight has this enormous cost.
As I talked with the imam, it became clear that we both wanted the same thing: the revitalization of the American dream. We rarely hear about the American dream anymore. Where did it go? I’ll tell you. It went nowhere. It’s always there. We just stopped believing in it. We stopped aspiring to it. So today, I want you to welcome my guests to Rooftop Revelation.
What an honor, and a privilege to have with us today two brothers who traveled all the way from the Twin Cities, that’s right from Minnesota, to be with us today on the rooftop to talk about the issues that they are dealing with in the Twin Cities and the issues that we’re dealing with, here in Chicago.
And what we have discovered is that, although we have different faiths, there are so many similarities, similarities in faith, similarities in how we’re trying to deal with our families, our education, with crime, all kinds of issues. And it’s those issues that we want to bring to your attention today. And so I’m glad to have with us a world-renowned scholar, a civic leader, Imam Tawakal Ismail. And here to interpret with us today, our friend and brother, Faisal Deri. And welcome to the rooftop.
Below is a lightly edited transcript of the exchange between Pastor Brooks and Imam Tawakal. The imam’s quotes were provided through his interpreter.
Imam Tawakal: Thank you very much for having us. It’s an honor and a privilege, and it’s also very inspirational for us to be with your congregation and with your community and to see the immensely powerful job that you all doing here. In our faith tradition, one of the key pillars is that people who are helpful to people, people who are out there uplifting their communities and their people, are the ones that Allah in our case, or God, loves the most.
Pastor Brooks: Absolutely.
Imam Tawakal: So it is absolutely well within our shared traditions to be engaged in something that’s beneficial, not just to ourselves, but to our communities at large.
Pastor Brooks: Let’s give people a little history about Somalia and the Twin Cities. How did that all come about?
Imam Tawakal: The Somali-American community settled first in the Twin Cities and in Minnesota from the early- to mid-’90s. It was part of that wave that arrived in the U.S. following the collapse of the central state in our country. And so people came there, one, fleeing from violence and, two, looking for opportunity for their families and for their kids. Safe streets, opportunities, good schools, good education, good jobs, stable families. Those were really the key drivers.
Minnesota wasn’t ideal weather-wise, but it was ideal in so many of those other things that are important. … Now it’s home. Somalis in Minnesota are in every facet of our community. They’re in law enforcement, they’re in the business sector and they’re in all kind of professional classes. So we have a growing community, growing middle class, growing business community, but we also have quite a bit of challenges. And I think that’s where it intersects with what you’re doing here.
Pastor Brooks: I talk a lot about the American dream and I talk a lot about opportunities. I don’t really buy into people having equal outcomes, but I do believe we should have equal opportunities. And I do believe that all of us should have a right to pursue the American dream. But some things that you mentioned are the challenges.
I want to talk about what are some of the challenges that the Somalian people face in the Twin Cities. Because I think when people hear your challenges, they’re going to understand that some of the same challenges that are in the Twin Cities, those are the things that we’re experiencing here in Chicago.
Imam Tawakal: Some of the challenges that we are seeing in our community again, are very similar. We see quite a bit of violence amongst our youth, particularly the ones who really were born here in this country, that parents were so hopeful that they will be the future, right? So it’s so disheartening to see that, not getting the full potential out of some of those kids. We’re seeing abuse of drugs. We’re seeing kids losing their identity and their culture or having some sort identity crisis, which is leading into mental health issues.
I think some of the solutions that we are thinking is, number one, to connect people in their faith and God. I think once you’re grounded in your faith and in God and those things, that is always a powerful thing that would help you.
Pastor Brooks: Absolutely.
Imam Tawakal: We also need to be able to connect them into resources and opportunities, to not ignore the problems that are out there, but to address them head on, to be able to provide them with opportunities.
I’m so happy that part of your focus here are recreational opportunities. Kids don’t have an outlet to channel all of their energies and passions and so forth.
Pastor Brooks: I know you all, like us, are attempting to build a center. And I want to hear more about why. Why is there such a great need to have this center?
Imam Tawakal: The idea of establishing our own center was really a necessity. It was because there was no center that is serving the community. And we have a large number of youth in our community. Our community is an extremely young community, young populations. We have a lot of youth that are lacking opportunities, creation of opportunities.
That’s a glaring need in our community because we don’t have any center that is particularly serving in a culturally-appropriate way. That is, for example, a fitness center where women can work out on their own. … In the winter, there’s really not a lot of opportunities for kids to engage in other sports activities, like indoor soccer and things like that. Also, the center can help with getting connected to resources and opportunities, for getting employment and entrepreneurship trainings.
Pastor Brooks: The Twin Cities really suffered a lot during the events of George Floyd. And I know there was a lot of talk about defunding the police and a lot of messaging around that. How have you all been able to handle that dynamic of dealing with the police and building that trust back?
Imam Tawakal: I’m glad you brought up defunding the police because I think that was one of the stupidest things that ever happened for our people. … And it was particularly traumatic in our community because we are coming, again, as I mentioned earlier, we’re here as a result of running away from violence in our own country.
So safety and security is always essential for us. And that’s not to dismiss some of the consistency and systemic policing issues that this country has suffered for so long, and particularly communities of color and African Americans have suffered. But we also think that defunding the police or abolishing the police or those sort of things, were not the necessary or the right response.
I would say, that as a faith leader, the safety and the protection of the life is the most important thing. … It was extremely important to make sure that folks of faith and our community leaders stood up and said, “No, we’re not supportive of that.” And I think the Somali community, as well as other communities of color, particularly African American communities, in my understanding, came out and voted against that idea.
Pastor Brooks: When we talk about these issues and all of the things that we’re faced with, in the Twin Cities and Chicago and other places across America, what are the three things that you all would like to work on and find solutions to solve within your community?
Imam Tawakal: Number one is addressing issues around youth with employment opportunities and education. Number two is addressing the family or the nucleus of the family. If you have a strong family, you tend to have a strong community. So that’s another thing that we really think is key. If we lose our families and the strength of our families, then we are going to have problems ongoing.
The third issue is building relationships. And I think that’s why it was so inspirational for us to see the work that you are doing here. It was so important for you to invite us here, to learn what other communities that are facing similar challenges are doing right. And to build that network and the relationships so we can advocate and self-advocate our issues collectively.
Pastor Brooks: Our goals are to make America the best country we can make it. And that means that Chicago, the South Side of Chicago, has to be better. It means that the Twin Cities have to be better. So what is the one thing that you want American people to know about the Somali people in the Twin Cities?
Imam Tawakal: I would profess by saying that I think America’s already great. It may be the greatest, in my opinion. We’re so thankful and feel blessed that we have this opportunity and we are here and we are raising our families.
But having said that, we must make sure that we support equality, that the people have the fair shake. That there’s a justice and fairness in our interactions with one another, with the police, with our communities, all of those things. I think that’s the foundation, that’s the bedrock of stable communities and safe communities. So if people feel that there’s fairness and justice and that everyone is being treated fairly and equally, I think that sort of empowers people and gives everyone hope and faith in their situation and makes them really appreciate that much more in their situation.