Walter Thompson-Hernández is a journalist who grew up in LA and wrote a very popular feature on the Compton Cowboys. The story was published by the New York Times in 2018, and stood out because of it’s eye-popping images – it’s hard not to be impressed with the striking incongruity of black cowboys on the streets of South Central A. This past spring, months before the killing of George Floyd and the protests in around LS, Thompson-Hernandez published a book on the cowboys which offers a compassionate glimpse into one of LA’s most misunderstood neighborhoods. Just this past month he did a follow-up for the Times, depicting the Compton Cowboys riding alongside the Black Lives Matter protests.
The Compton Cowboys: The New Generation of Cowboys in America’s Urban Heartland is featured as an LA Times Book Club pick this summer. I listened to it on Audible and enjoyed the depth of Thompson-Hernandez’s storytelling about the members of this intimate, but disparate community. His portraits show how kids who spend time with the horses early in their lives, benefit from a long-term, emotional connection that is therapeutic and soothing to kids who are born into a part of LA that suffers from historical oppression. Generational poverty and close-by threats of violence are difficult to escape and it’s clear the spending time on the farm and being around horses has provided solace and a certain kind of hope for this community.
The book portrays the life of Mayisha Akbar, who had the vision to purchase the rambling acreage of Richland Farm and create the Compton Junior Posse. Akbar ran the farm in the middle of Compton for decades, providing a way to help kids find a life in and out of the ring. She only passed on the management of the farm to the next generation in 2017. The Compton Cowboys were formed in 2018 with the motto “Streets Raised Us. Horses Saved Us.”
The Cowboys rode with Black Lives Matter marches in LA last month, and Thompson-Hernandez covered the story for the New York Times again. While there have been Black cowboys in the American west since the 1940s, the fate of this group is very fragile, and personal.
Thomspon-Hernandez took all these photos, too! I’m following the Compton Cowboys on Instagram.