Ernest Shepard III, also known as BIG ERN, passed from this life on Friday, February 19, 2016, at 10:44 am. He was diagnosed with kidney failure and with terminal cancer. Ern stood tall despite the pain and fatigue he was coping with, and celebrated his 71st birthday with loved ones on February 10th.
In elementary school, he lived in the historic Black community surrounding Central Avenue. (Alameda was LA’s Mason Dixon line, and the Black community was segregated within the area surrounding Central through rent restrictions, bank redlining, police and vigilante violence. The community’s residents, and their contributions to arts and literature, came to be known as the West Coast’s cultural equivalent of the Harlem Renaissance.)
Big Ern told us stories about how much he loved to read, and how he slept below a whole set of the Encyclopedia Britannica and dreamt of all the places he would go. In school, he was at the head of his class academically, but because if his size, he was always tested on the playgrounds and streets of South Central. As Big Ern put it, “Like a lot of Black youth, I wanted to be a student, but I was forced to be a fighter.”
As a young man, he got into a fist fight, and it resulted in the death of another man. For that, Big Ern was sentenced to death. He did 45 years in the California prison system, (3 of those years were on Death Row), and countless years in solitary confinement. Inside prison, he studied the law in order to defend himself, and filed a writ asking for a new trial. He won and thereafter represented himself in a capital case. As he often said, “My lawyer got me a death sentence, and I got my sentence reduced to 7 years to life.”
Upon his release, Ern reached out to Chuco’s Justice Center, where he helped to run the Fair Chance Project. Known throughout the prison system as a powerful boxer, Big Ern could often be found in the back of Chuco’s punching the heavy bag, while also striking up a conversation with anyone who passed by. In the end, he was both a fighter and a teacher.
Until then, please help Big Ern’s friends and family meet his cremation and memorial expenses:
Make a donation online, and indicate that your gift is in honor of Big Ern. It will be immediately given to his memorial fund.
Send donations to PO Box 73688 LA, CA 90003, or drop them off at Chuco’s c/o Ernest Shepard Memorial Fund.
Chuco’s Justice Center
On the border between South Central LA and Inglewood
one light west of Florence and Crenshaw
1137 E. Redondo Blvd., Inglewood, CA 90302