By Andrew Stern
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Pastor Corey Brooks spent three winter months shivering atop the roof of a dilapidated Chicago motel to draw attention to the deadly toll from gun violence, raising $450,000 in the process to buy and raze the motel.
"It was tough to endure the cold, the nights and the loneliness," said Brooks, who came down on February 24 after 94 days spent in a tent staked to the roof of the Super Motel.
"But it was a blessing because it brought awareness to an issue, gun violence, where young men are killing each other."
Now the 43-year-old Brooks, a father of four with a congregation of about 3,000, will take his cause on the road in a planned coast-to-coast, 2,780-mile summer trek from New York's Times Square to Los Angeles' Staples Center.
"Our goal is to take a message that's needed in every part of America. Violence knows no color," Brooks, who is black, said in an interview.
Chicago had a relatively mild winter, which helped Brooks while he was on the roof, but has been blamed in part for a spike in murders in the city in the first three months of the year, to 120 from 75 the previous two years.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who gave $5,000 to Brooks' cause, has vowed to combat gang crime and police have beefed up their presence in dangerous neighborhoods.
Brooks hopes donors pledge $15 million he says he needs to build a community center on the site of the now-razed motel.
Brooks' New Beginnings Church Chicago and the motel site face each other across King Drive, a south side street named for the slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., but which is now frequented by prostitutes and drug dealers.
Brooks occasionally heard gunfire during his rooftop vigil which he interrupted just twice - to officiate at the funerals of two murdered young men whose families were members of his congregation.
Actor Tyler Perry donated the last $100,000 of the $450,000 collected to buy and knock down the closed motel - "a place of rampant darkness," Brooks called it.
Brooks has set a goal of walking across the country in 94 days - but said it may take longer along back roads - and he will be accompanied by his youngest and oldest children, sons aged 11 and 21, respectively.
"They represent the age groups of the young men that I want to stop killing themselves," Brooks said.
(Reporting By Andrew Stern; editing by Todd Eastham)