11. The popsicle option: Big E on keeping young people out of gangs and off the streets of Nashville neighborhoods

One-time gang leader Erick McCord, aka “Big E”, sits with kids he is mentoring at his “safe house” at an undisclosed location in a Nashville neighborhood near downtown , April 2018.

He doesn’t say he is mentoring anyone. He says he is getting the young people off the streets so they don’t get him killed. He says he is only taking care of himself by keeping them out of trouble.

He says, “These keeeids think they are lions when they are really lambs. I tell them, go to school, use your mind, don’t die on the streets with us.”


As Erick talks he explains the things he wasn’t taught as a young man. The simplest things like keeping yourself clean and making your bed.

He said more than anything he lacked options. He said, “When I was hungry they put a rock in my hand and said go sell this.” He said kids need options.

He opens his phone and shows photographs of his dead brother. He said his brother was killed by the very gang they were both members of. It was a double cross. He said this is the way of the street. No one is your friend, even your friends aren’t really friends. Everyone at some point becomes your enemy. The way of the street is death, he says.

Big E said there is a new Nashville, and he is not talking about construction and new jobs. He said the kids in Nashville neighborhoods today are more dangerous than when he was a kid. “These kids are ten or eleven! And they pull a trigger like that!” If he can show any of them a better way he will.

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