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Reinventing the American cowboy in Compton

The streets raised them, and the horses saved them.

COMPTON, Calif. — The image of a cowboy that most of us know does not portray the original American cowboys. The original American cowboys were slaves and African American ranch hands. 

Today, the cowboy image, as most of us know it is changing, and it's changing in some unlikely places. Compton, California is not known for its farmland, but in a small section of the city, inner-city kids are learning to ride horses on a working ranch. The group teaching the kids call themselves the Compton Cowboys.

The city of Compton is made up of four main communities, one of them being Richland Farms, an area zoned for agriculture use as far back as 1888. 100 years later, Mayisha Akbar purchased a plot of land and started a non-profit. 

Akbar called her group the Compton Jr. Posse. It was an after-school program for ages eight to 18 that taught kids and youth how to ride horses. Keenan Abercrombia is Akbar’s nephew, and he was one of the first kids to go through the program. 

“A lot of people like basketball or football. For us, it was horses,” Abercrombia said.

Kids in the Compton Jr. Posse were also required to take on certain responsibilities like feeding, watering and--most importantly--cleaning the stalls. “I would be funny to me because the kids would come to me and say 'eww!' Then I would pick it up and say 'it’s just grass,'” Abercrombia said.

It may not seem like much but those experiences, those responsibilities, literally saved Abercombia and his cousin Randy Savvy. 

“Most of the time, bad things happen because you don’t have a safe place to go, so you will be roaming around getting in trouble. Then, you end up in the grave or jail cell or something,” Savvy said.

Abrecrombia and Savvy admit their aunt Mayisha did her best, but she couldn’t always shield the kids in her group from what goes on outside the farm’s gates. 

“Fast forward, her son--my cousin--got shot. He’s alive today but that was obviously traumatic for the family. But Auntie was faced with a decision to stay or leave, and she chose to stay because that’s the way our family is. We always want to be more for the people and help the community,” Savvy said.

When Savvy got older, he left the farm to pursue a music career, but when his aunt had to retire due to health reasons, Savvy came back and talked his cousins and friends into running the farm under a new name: the Compton Cowboys. 

“It's really about paying it forward to save more lives, because a lot of us wouldn’t be here without the ranch,” Savvy said.

That decision to come back only strengthened the program. In 2018, the Compton Cowboys were featured in a Guinness beer commercial and received national attention on talk shows and new outlets. It even became a springboard for Savvy's music career. 

“It's working out like crazy. I ended up working with Dr. Dre who produced my new single. It's called 'Color Blind,'” Savvy said.

Cowboy boots and bolo ties are not something you will see the Compton Cowboys sporting. Instead, they choose to sport a positive influence for kids who look like them. 

“People judge us and say we aren’t real cowboys. 'They just do if for the camera.' No, we are real cowboys, and we actually do teach the kids how to be cowboys and cowgirls,” Abercombia said.

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