The slain drill rapper is immortalized in a mural on a corner store. With a baseball cap turned backward, the painting depicts King Von wearing a silver chain that says “O Block,” a faction of the Black Disciples in Woodlawn. The 26-year-old was killed in 2020.
That corner store is across the street from Parkway Gardens, a subsidized housing development for low-income families at 64th Street and King Drive. O Block is synonymous with Parkway Gardens. Drill, a violent subgenre of hip-hop, was formed there around 2010 and popularized by Chief Keef, G-Herbo and King Louie. King Von, whose real name was Dayvon Daquan Bennett, and a network of other young Black men have used drill lyrics, often via social media, to settle beefs. There’s been a trail of destruction as some of those young men have literally died in the crossfire.
Drill, O Block, King Von and Parkway Gardens are all prominent in a trial happening right now in federal court.
Prosecutors are trying to convict six O Block associates and rappers for the murder of FBG Duck, 26, whose real name was Carlton Weekly. In 2020, he was brazenly killed in daylight outside the Dolce & Gabbana store in Gold Coast.
Crime and disinvestment surround Parkway Gardens like a moat. Built in the 1950s, once upon a time Parkway attracted Black working- and middle-class families. Michelle Obama briefly lived there as a toddler. Through the decades unemployment soared in the surrounding neighborhood. Businesses shuttered. Poverty persisted. Gangs splintered. Parkway Gardens turned to hundreds of apartment rentals to provide housing for struggling families.
Mural symbolizes drill, neglect and violence
Drill didn’t create these conditions. The controversial King Von mural symbolizes not only the birthplace of drill, which boasts a global reach, but the neglect and violence troubling the community.
King Von’s smile is plastered on Parkway Supermarket. Corner stores are South Side fixtures and Parkway Supermarket is a prototype: lacking variety or too few healthy options. But they fill in the gaps when traditional grocers don’t open up shop. Just last year a nearby Save A Lot abruptly closed.
On a recent Friday morning, I stopped by Parkway Supermarket to ask about the mural amid the FBG Duck trial. A manager told me the store has been there 25 years and has an agreement with King Von’s family to keep the mural up. He said people from all over the city and country come to visit. I also noticed a police car parked across the street. A Chicago Police Department spokesperson said to “maintain public safety in this area which regularly has a high level of activity, the 003rd District has a car to provide additional security.”
Edward Morris first pointed out the police car to me and its ubiquitous presence. “It’s a great advertisement for gang activity,” he said of the mural.
He’s the pastor of Parkway Gardens Christian Church, which abuts Parkway Gardens. On Fridays, 75 people stand in line for the weekly food pantry. They come from next door and across the Dan Ryan Expressway.
“Our people are economically depressed. Many don’t have jobs so the food pantries are their shopping place,” Morris said.
They walk down to the basement to load bags of canned food and Topo Chico water while volunteers wearing red church T-shirts assist. Some days organizations come in to present healthy eating programs.
“So many people said ‘Well, why are you giving food to those people? You’re only going to make it worse. If you teach a man to fish, he’ll never go hungry again.’ Yeah, but if he’s hungry while he’s fishing, he’s not going to fish because he’s going to eat worms,” Morris said.
Udochukwu Ukaobasi has heard similar disparaging comments as owner of Daveens African Foods & Grocery, a store that opened in a strip mall last month. It’s on the same block as Parkway Supermarket but a world of difference. Fufu, croaker fish, yams and cow legs are stocked. Definitely not a typical corner store.
“Most of our foods are organic,” Ukaobasi said.
I, too, was surprised to encounter Daveens, wondering how big the demand for palm oil is from neighbors.
Ukaobasi is Nigerian and lives on the South Side, where there aren’t enough authentic African grocers, he said. So the clientele comes from all over.
“People say some things about this area. How did you open here? Did you ask?” Ukaobasi said. What’s implied in that question is concern about crime.
He has an answer.
“I said, ‘Well, you guys are seeing how the neighborhood is, but I’m seeing people that will tomorrow become African eaters of food,’ ” Ukaobasi said. He takes pride in selling fresh food in an area with a dearth. He sells a common cornflake brand but has gotten some converts to fufu, a starchy dish made from cassava.
Daveens is a balm in the neighborhood. Parkway Gardens Christian Church provides sustenance with its food pantry. In both cases, the spaces are responding to the needs of the community without writing the community off.
An African grocer on King Drive doesn’t have to be an anomaly and can be an alternative to the corner store. Maybe I’ll go back to Daveens and purchase the smoked chicken from the freezer.