When surveying the landscape of southern Los Angeles, one might not expect to find cowboys in Compton. But in truth, horses have been an integral part of this tight-knit community since the mid-20th century. The ten childhood friends that make up The Compton Cowboys created a bond through the Compton Jr. Posse non-profit organization. Over 20 years later, they remain a permanent fixture in Compton Jr. Posse’s mentorship program — serving as riding coaches, stabling managers, and enrichment instructors.
For their only woman rider Keiara Wade, her legacy as a Black cowgirl began long before she was born.
“I have pictures of my mom pregnant on a horse with me. The first time I was on a horse, I was eight months old.”
Although Black cowboys have always been underrepresented in pop culture, one in four cowboys during the pioneer era were in fact Black and Keiara’s grandfather did his part in immersing his family in the culture. He began riding in the late 1950s, trading in his motorcycles for horses. And under the guidance of her mother, a young Keiara quickly became a fierce competitor as a barrel racer in the rodeo circuit. With every win, she began to imagine what it could be like to be the first Black woman to win a national championship in barrel racing. But after tragically losing her brother to gang violence in 2014, her North Star began to fade.
As an adult, Keiara returned to the ranch where she grew up riding and reconnected with her childhood friends. Their shared dream of building a better Compton through horse rescue and youth advocacy gave Keiara a renewed sense of purpose, reigniting her love for horses and her community. In 2017, they formed The Compton Cowboys and have made it their mission to dismantle the negative stereotypes about Black Americans in Compton, while promoting positivity and mentorship to their community’s youth.
“Kids around here need a positive outlet and positive role models. Through horses we're able to actually save people’s lives.”
Today, Keiara faces the new challenge of balancing motherhood, her commitment to her community and pursuing her lifelong dream of making it to the barrel-racing national championships. She faces the challenges head on, knowing that she is not in it alone. As a member of the Compton Cowboys, she's able to invest in herself as well as her community — embodying the rich legacy of Black Americans breaking down barriers as they forge ahead.
On June 7th, 2020, The Compton Cowboys led a peace ride through their hometown in the name of Black lives. The hometown heroes filled the streets of Compton on horseback, chanting “Black Lives Matter.” It was a community defining moment and America took notice; the Compton Cowboys were searched more than ever before.
Photography by Chris Gregory unless noted