Published August 27th, 2023 at 6:00 AM4 minute read
At age 91, Alvin L. Brooks, former Kansas City mayor pro tem (one of the dozens of descriptions that help to describe this local treasure), is just a little worried.
In his honor, Rockhurst University is creating the new Alvin L. Brooks Center for Faith-Justice at 5401 Troost Ave. on the edge of its campus. But the project has been a little slow getting started after a December 2022 groundbreaking ceremony that Brooks attended. And it’s unclear exactly when the opening ceremony will take place.
“I don’t ask God for things,” Brooks said. “I just thank him, thank him, thank him.”
But then Brooks confessed that he recently offered this prayer: “God, I do want to ask you something. Please don’t let it be to where when they have the ribbon cutting for the Brooks Center for Faith-Justice someone will have to say, ‘Brooks is smiling down on us today.’ I want to be there.”
Rockhurst wants that, too — from former university president Fr. Thomas Curran, who came up with the idea of naming the center after Brooks, to Fr. Don Farnan, who will direct the center, to Paula Moss, Rockhurst’s associate vice president for advancement, who is among those figuring out money and timing questions.
Officials creating the center say things got stalled a bit because remodeling and construction bids on what was once a Kroger grocery store came in several hundred thousand dollars over the initial estimate.
“We have raised about $6.4 million,” Moss explained. “But then when they went out for bids, it came in well over $7 million.”
So officials put a temporary hold on things. But now that $7-plus million looks like a reliable estimate, Moss said, “We’re looking at some things we could change or not do and we’re looking at phasing things in.”
That may mean delaying construction of a chapel that is to be part of the center (Brooks would love for the chapel to be named after Curran) and instead, for now, just creating space for offices of the several social justice agencies that may be housed at the new center.
Farnan, who also is pastor at two nearby parishes, St. Therese Little Flower and St. James, is anxious to get the center’s participants in one place and to begin coordinating the faith and justice work that will move out into the community from there.
“Having Al Brooks’ good name there,” Farnan said about naming the center after Brooks, “says an awful lot. Because of his history — and even going back to Arkansas when he grew up in poverty — and then coming here and finding a niche, finding a way through his service with the police, the government, the Ad Hoc Group Against Crime, I think he’s what keeps us grounded. He and Father Curran were like brothers. I hope that he (Brooks) takes an active role.”
Brooks told his life story in his memoir, “Binding Us Together”, which describes his rise from an impoverished family in his native Arkansas to being one of the first Black Kansas City police officers, a top city government employee and an honored civil rights leader here.
“Drawing from the Bible,” said Farnan, himself a Rockhurst alum, “we talk about faith as belief in things unseen and trust in things not yet realized. So we can look back on the last 25 or 30 years on Troost Avenue to see how things have transformed, and I think a lot of that is from faith.
“As for justice, the idea is the biblical idea not of getting even but getting right. How do we get right? How do we get right with God? How do we get right with one another, with our neighbor, our environment, with all people? We could say it’s the ‘Alvin Brooks Center for Faith That Does Justice,’ but it would be an awfully long sign. So we summarize it as ‘Faith-Justice.’” And that idea, he says, “will guide us.”
Farnan has been paying close attention to the work that Fr. Justin Matthews, a Christian Orthodox priest, has been doing as executive director of Reconciliation Services from its offices in the 31st and Troost neighborhood, and has found models for working in the community that can be used at the new Brooks Center.
“His mission for Reconciliation Services,” Farnan said of Matthews, “is to transform Troost Avenue from a place of division to a place of gathering. This is what Rockhurst is trying to do, too. The Rockhurst tagline has been ‘In the city for good.’ And in the city is where I want to be — in whatever time is left in my priesthood.”
The Brooks Center will house social justice and diversity-related activities at Rockhurst, including KC Common Good and its KC 360 program, which describes itself as “a comprehensive, community-based approach to reduce gun violence and violent crime, build stronger community relations, increase access to education and jobs and implement responsible justice reforms.” KC Common Good currently has offices on the Rockhurst campus north and east of the new Brooks Center.
“We’ll be hoping to engage different groups that are willing to invest,” said Farnan, “whether it’s businesses or social agencies, churches, schools. And we’ll find that faith-justice can guide us in the right direction.”
He hopes the center will be home for agencies that respond to emergency needs but also ones that look at issues from a more systematic approach.
As for Brooks being able to attend the center’s eventual opening, no one who knows him will be surprised that he’s optimistic: “I’ve been favored before and I think I’ll be favored again. I’m surely blessed.”
Bill Tammeus, an award-winning columnist formerly with The Kansas City Star, writes the “Faith Matters” blog for The Star’s website, book reviews for The National Catholic Reporter and for The Presbyterian Outlook. His latest book is “Love, Loss and Endurance: A 9/11 Story of Resilience and Hope in an Age of Anxiety.” Email him at email@example.com.