O Block is one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago. This place isn’t famous for its fancy lights or shiny attractions; it’s known for something else. This is a story of O Block and how Islam is changing this place for the good.
You won’t find its name on most maps, but to the people who reside here, it’s much more than just a number on paper. Young men in hoodies and low-riding jeans gather in the courtyards here, staring down strangers. Mothers hurry past, holding tight to little hands as they shuttle between the neighborhood school and the safety of their apartments.
The neighborhood wasn’t safe for anyone. Security cameras perched on every corner used to watch over O Block, strictly recording the everyday activities of the neighborhood. You may have seen a recent video of Sheikh Uthman entering this area to give dawah.
“This is your brother Uthman ibn Farooq in Chicago, O Block. We’re here giving dawah. We’re not scared to give dawah anywhere, inshallah. Whenever it is needed, we’re going to go and give dawah. If we become shahada, we’re ready to become shahada, in the path of Allah, in the path of dawah.” said Sheikh Uthman ibn Farooq
Troubling Past of O Block
The name O Block wasn’t chosen by chance; it carried a heavy history with it. This name emerged from the harsh realities that marked the neighborhood’s past. The “O” in O Block stood for Odee Perry, a young gang member whose life was tragically cut short one summer night in 2011. This unfortunate incident occurred just around the corner from where O Block stands today. It’s worth noting that his assailant was a 17-year-old female gang member by the name of Gakirah Barnes. Tragically, Barnes also met her end not far from O Block.
During a troubling period spanning from June 2011 to June 2014, O Block bore witness to a total of 19 horrible shootings during that time. It was a time when this neighborhood earned the suspicious and unreliable distinction of being the most dangerous block in Chicago. These unsettling events are now part of O Block’s history, a testament to the challenges it faced in the past. The community and the police recognized that something needed to change. O Block and its surrounding area were known as an Impact Zone, an area demanding highly alerted police presence and innovative strategies. It was time to address the root causes of violence and to protect the vulnerable.
Yvonne Gayden, a resident of O Block, knows this plan all too well. Her son Edward Riley lost his life to gun violence on O Block streets in 2011. He was a product of this neighborhood, a young man who grew up here despite its challenges. Yvonne acknowledges her son’s imperfections but refuses to blame him for spending time with his friends in the place he called home. He had warned him about the dangers of O Block, calling it a death trap. However, amid the violence and the challenges that O Block faces, there’s a transformation. People in O Block are coming together to practice Islam, a faith that unites people and guides them to not judge people of their troubled past. It’s a strong reminder of how the faith in Islam can improve and truly make a difference.
O Block, previously a place associated with danger, has transformed into a beacon of hope. This transformation shows us that even in the gloomiest of places, change is always achievable.
In 2022, the Chicago Police Department shared some surprising news. They noticed that there were way fewer crimes in O Block compared to the previous year, 2021. The fights between gangs were also happening less often. The police were puzzled; they couldn’t figure out why. The real reason for the drop in crime was pretty clear. It was Islam. The folks in O Block had started following this faith really quickly. Islam brought peace, togetherness, and respect to the neighborhood.
How Islam Changed O Block
Here’s how Islam changed things in O Block: people from different backgrounds came closer together because of Islam. It made them feel like one big family. They prayed openly on the streets, showing that they wanted peace and didn’t want any more violence.
With Islam, hope returned to O Block, and people began to believe in a future without crime. As crime went down, businesses in the area started to do better, and more visitors came, bringing more money to the community. Kids could finally focus on their studies without worrying about violence, and education became a way to build a better life for themselves.
Today, O Block is a place of hope and change. While the police are still trying to figure things out, the people in O Block know the truth: it’s their faith in Islam that’s responsible for the drop in crime and fewer fights between gangs. The positive change wasn’t limited to O Block alone; shootings in the border area also saw a significant drop.
O Block is part of the Chicago Police Department’s Beat 312, which covers an area extending east from the Dan Ryan Expressway to Cottage Grove, roughly bordered by 63rd and 65th streets. Since 2021, the number of shootings in Beat 312 has decreased by a substantial percentage, as reported by the police.
The people of O Block understand that faith can bring about big changes. Islam not only transformed their neighborhood but also gave them hope for a brighter future. It’s proof that when communities come together for peace, even the toughest problems can be solved.