Johnny O’Connor, street pastor

photo by Lauran Fayne Worthy

Johnny O’Connor stands at the light rail station at H and 12th streets on a mission from God. He is known as the Block Bishop, a street minister. The 39 year-old Elk Grove resident spends his days off talking about God and hip-hop to anyone who will listen and hands out free CDs that feature his collaborations with spiritual rappers from across the country. He calls his movement AFG MOB, which stands for All For God Ministry On Beatz. Originally from Detroit, O’Connor is an ex-con who says he was imprisoned for “running the streets” which includes drug-related charges, gun charges, and assault and battery. “A lot of violence and hate,” he says. Now he works as a cook in Citrus Heights, is an ordained pastor and attends Bible college. Unlike most rappers, he’s not in it for the money, but proudly declares that he’s in God’s gang. “Being a pastor, I’m not in it for the income, I’m in it for the outcome,” he says.

What brought you to Sacramento?

My mom. She was getting older and sicker. Unfortunately, I lost her to cancer about two weeks ago. She had bone cancer. She died the day before Halloween. It was our favorite holiday, too. God, he works funny sometimes, you know what I mean?

Did being in prison lead to finding spirituality?

Not at all. I’d be up in jail just mad that I was in jail. It wasn’t until just recently that I met my mentor. He does a thing called the Neighborhood Hope Dealers. He goes block to block, street to street and does the same thing that I do [now]. I was at church one day, and I was drunk and I was mad. I ran into someone from my past in the bathroom. I was ready to stomp him out. Went outside to smoke a cigarette and calm down. These dudes in these shirts that said Neighborhood Hope Dealers came up and started talking to me. I asked if they’d pray for me and they said yeah. Ever since then I’ve been wanting to give back the way they do. I’m part of them, but I have my own thing which is AFG MOB.

What did you learn from Hope Dealers?

Without them I wouldn’t have stopped and thought about a lot of things. On Friday nights they hit liquor stores and stuff like that and just start talking to people. They pray with them, show them love. Now that’s what I do. It’s back and forth to work [on the light rail] and if I’m off a day this is what I do. I just run up to talk to people. Even if I don’t get to pray with them, I get to talk to them. These are the people that are the forgotten stains on the pavement. No one really bothers, they just look right past them. They’re homeless or they’re addicted to drugs, whatever the case.

What was life like before you met your mentor and founded AFG Mob?

I was tired of getting in trouble. I was tired of getting up in the morning, drinking, going to work, and then drinking and coming home and drinking until I passed out. Every time I was drinking something happened that was bad or worse. Nothing ever good came out it. I was screaming to God one day to help me. I haven’t drank since.

And since you founded AFG Mob?

To me, it’s just amazing considering the lifestyle I used to live. I tell people I’m a pastor now and they’re just like what? It’s odd, but it’s the best I’ve ever felt in my life. I’m 39 years old, but I feel like I’m 15 again.

When did you decide to start the street ministry?

Probably about eight months ago. I met my fiance. I used to work with other labels in music, [artists] like Tech N9ne, Insane Clown Posse. She used to sing in the church side. She was telling me that. It just came to me one day. I was listening to a lot of the rappers I used to listen to that are Christian artists now. I put a CD together with them. I reached out to them and they all made a song for me.

Do you find that any neighborhoods are more or less responsive to your ministry?

Most of the areas I go to are the poorer neighborhoods. The people that don’t really have anything. Anybody that wants to hear about God will, but I find the poorer neighborhoods are more adept to listen because they just want anybody to talk to them in a positive way.

How has your ministry helped clothe and feed the homeless?

I’ll put something on Facebook to ask for donations or I’ll hit the street. My wife at her job, she’ll ask. We have blanket drives, coat drives, food drives, toy drives. We’re trying to do a toy drive now so kids can have something for Christmas. I know on Christmas day I’m going out with the neighborhood Hope Dealers and we’re going out block to block in the poverty stricken areas and handing out toys.