RACINE — Walk into Living Faith Lutheran Church on a Saturday and you may think you have walked into a classical music venue.
That’s the typical day of the week that Antone Brooks of Racine plays the piano at the 2915 Wright Ave. house of worship, formerly known as Atonement Lutheran Church.
It’s a passion 56-year-old Brooks has had since he was a young child, but it’s something he had got away from for many years as he endured life’s struggles. He has only recently got back into playing piano, he said, and it has helped him cope with health issues.
Brooks doesn’t remember a time when he hasn’t enjoyed playing piano. His mom — a single mom raising seven children — played an old upright piano they had in their East St. Louis, Ill., home.
“People tell me by 5, I could play by ear,” Brooks said.
As a teenager, he played in churches for services and weddings and even played at a few hotels. From there, he received a scholarship to attend Southern Illinois University, where he majored in music.
He made it 3½ years, but after receiving a lot of criticism from peers for not getting into jazz, he left school and eventually made his way to Racine, where he worked as a lab tech for a number of years until the company downsized and let him go.
That eventually led to him being homeless on the streets of Racine. His main memory of that time: “It was cold outside,” said Brooks. At that time there wasn’t a centralized homeless shelter, and homeless people spent nights at various churches around the community.
During those years of struggle — which included the death of his mother and temporarily leaving Racine — Brooks stopped playing the piano.
A few years ago, when he made his way back to Racine, Brooks discovered the piano at the Hospitality Center, 614 Main St., which is next to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and provides free meals for those in need. He started to play again.
Through a connection with a neighbor, he met Joannie Williams, a retired nurse, whose husband, Warren Williams, is a pastor at Living Faith Lutheran.
She invited him to play at the church on Saturdays.
“The first time I heard him, my eyes welled up with tears,” Joannie said. “It’s like a concert for one.”
It’s that music that has helped Brooks through his recent health problems, which include dialysis treatments three times per week because of kidney failure, as well as a heart attack about 18 months ago.
“It’s like therapy for me,” Brooks said of playing. It’s a passion he is now sharing with Williams, teaching her the art of the piano.
“I blessed you and you blessed me,” Williams said. “It’s a mutual blessing.”
Because of his dialysis treatments, Brooks is limited as to when he can play, but is looking for opportunities to play in the community. He can be reached at 262-664-0673.
“It’s like therapy for me.” Antone Brooks, on playing the piano