Rewrite the negative to bring about the positive

By Casey Tom

Rev. Jonathan Brooks, Senior Pastor of Canaan Community Church and author of “Church Forsaken: Practicing Presence in Neglected Neighborhoods,” shared how his neighborhood rewrote its negative narrative to bring positive changes to the community.

He was featured speaker for a Friday lunch plenary session at the Religion Communicators Council (RCC) and Associated Church Press (ACP) joint national convention in Chicago.

Rev. Brooks was raised in West Englewood, a neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, where gun violence is common, and the typical advice given to young people to better their lives is to work hard and move away. Brooks emphasized that communities need to change their attitude and embrace, love, and take ownership their neighborhoods.

This change happened in West Englewood when his community came forth and created resources for their community that did not exist. In a neighborhood that lacked restaurants and grocery stores, Canaan Community Church created a co-op where vegetable gardens were planted and the fresh produce was brought in for neighbors to purchase.

As community members became empowered, they worked together to bring other resources into the neighborhood, such as a local café and eventually with persistence and the help of developers, a Whole Foods anchored shopping center.

Brooks emphasized that in order to motivate the community to take action, the people need to change their perspective. People need to embrace their own neighborhood and make it into a place that they want to live in. When your community prospers, you prosper.

Brooks referenced his book, “Church Forsaken,” and stated that each neighborhood should be seen with a bi-focal perspective. Each place has both brokenness and beauty. When focusing on just one side of this perspective, a skewed narrative is written, which ultimately impacts the community.

For his community, the negative narrative that his neighborhood is riddled with violence and lacks resources needs to be rewritten to focus on the beauty that is there – a community that has been empowered to make a change for the positive.


Casey Tom is General Manager for Faith for Today, a program of the Seventh Day Adventist Church and lives in Englewood, CA.

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