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Compton's Cowboys Keep The Old West Alive, And Kids Off The Streets

Apr 30, 2015
Originally published on May 1, 2015 8:40 am

In the middle of a gritty urban landscape in Southern California, some modern-day cowboys are trying — against great odds — to keep a little bit of the Old West alive.

Andrew Hosley gently tightens the bridle on Jade, a chestnut mare. More times than he can count, Jade has given kids in this Compton neighborhood a ride.

"I used to have the same reaction when I was a kid of their age," he says, "watching the guys ride by on horses, and I always wanted to touch 'em, ride 'em."

Cowboys have a long history here — going back to the late 1800s. This area of Compton, called Richland Farms, is still zoned agricultural.

Mayisha Akbar, a real estate broker moved her family here in the early eighties.

"We have about 400 homes and probably a couple of hundred horses, chickens, goats, lamas, all kinds of things," she says.

She was drawn to the quiet community, anchored by open space and backyard corrals.

But things changed when gang violence exploded.

"I stopped counting after we lost over 40 kids' lives," Akbar says.

She refers to that time as "the war."

"I just was so filled with emotion that I needed to keep the kids focused, and I needed to give them something other than the terrible daily things that they were facing," she says.

So she started going to horse auctions where she rescued horses, and, as it turned out, kids.

Today, nearly 30 years later, Compton Jr. Posse is still going strong.

In a small corral, 26-year-old Derrick Jennings is teaching some pint-size cowboys and girls about horse bridles. He looks up from under the brim of a very dusty cowboy hat, wide grin.

"Growing up, it was either gang bang or try to find something different," he says. "And thank you, Lord, I found something different."

He's never without his hat, boots or cowboy belt buckle. They let people know who he is, he says: employed, focused, hardworking — an all-around cowboy.

In Compton you'll see riders on busy streets or in a cloud of dust on one of the few dirt trails that occasionally run parallel to highways and train tracks. Some travel long distances to meet up at rodeos.

"Whenever I show up at a pro rodeo, they're surprised because I'm the only African-American that participates in the bareback ride, nationwide."

Tre Hosley, the son of Andrew Hosley, drives an old car with plenty of rodeo miles on it. In the trunk is a worn saddle, two pairs of chaps and a pair of gloves.

"A lot of people like judges and announcers, they come up to me and ask me, 'How in the world did you get to doing this?' " Tre says.

Compton is still a city mapped by unseen boundaries that define one gang territory from another. When Tre comes back home, he makes sure he's always wearing one of his rodeo belt buckles. For Derrick Jennings, it's his hat.

"Hey bro," Jennings says, "I'm a cowboy. Look here, you can put those guns down, I'm no threat, I pose no threat."

The kids growing up Compton see more than most. If they're lucky, one day, it might be a couple of cowboys riding down their street.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

In the middle of a gritty urban landscape in Southern California, some modern-day cowboys are trying against great odds to keep a little bit of the Old West alive. Compton has seen some positive changes in recent years, including this reconnection with the city's Western past. Gloria Hillard has more on the Compton Cowboys.

GLORIA HILLARD, BYLINE: The one thing a cowboy isn't shy talking about is his horse. Andrew Hosley gently tightens the bridle on Jade, a chestnut mare.

ANDREW HOSLEY: She does a little bit of everything. She can calf rope, she runs barrels.

HILLARD: And more times than Hosley can count, Jade has given kids in this Compton neighborhood a ride.

(HORSE FOOTSTEPS)

A. HOSLEY: Is this the first time you guys have ever been on a horse? Yeah? Both hands, right there. Come on, I'm going to walk you guys down a little bit.

(HORSE FOOTSTEPS)

A. HOSLEY: I used to have the same reaction when I was kid of their age, you know, watching the guys ride by on the horses. And I always wanted to touch 'em, ride 'em.

HILLARD: Cowboys have a long history here going back to the late 1800s. This area of Compton, called Richland Farms, is still zoned agricultural.

MAYISHA AKBAR: We have about 400 homes and probably a couple of hundred horses, chickens, goats, lamas, all kinds of things.

HILLARD: Mayisha Akbar, a real estate broker, moved her family here in the early '80s. She was drawn to the quiet community anchored by open space and backyard corrals. But then, things changed.

AKBAR: I stopped counting after we lost over 40 kids' lives.

HILLARD: Gang violence exploded. She refers to that time as the war.

AKBAR: I just was so filled with emotion that I needed to keep the kids focused and I needed to give them something other than the terrible daily things that they were facing.

HILLARD: So she started going to horse auctions rescuing horses, and, as it turned out, kids.

AKBAR: Do we have any interested future horse riders? All right.

HILLARD: Today, nearly 30 years later, Compton Jr. Posse is still going strong. In a small corral, 26-year-old Derrick Jennings is teaching some pint-size cowboys and girls about horse bridles. He looks up from under the brim of a very dusty cowboy hat, wide grin.

DERRICK JENNINGS: Growing up, it was either gang bang or try to find something different. And thank you, Lord, you know, I found something different.

HILLARD: He's never without his hat, boots or cowboy belt buckle. They let people know who he is.

JENNINGS: He has a job, he's focused, he's, you know, a hard worker. He's a all-around cowboy.

(HORSES WHINNYING)

HILLARD: In Compton, you'll see riders on busy streets or in a cloud of dust on one of the few dirt trails that occasionally run parallel to highways and train tracks. Some travel long distances to meet-up at rodeos.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It may be a little warm, but we're going to cool you down with some very, very good rodeo action.

TRE HOSLEY: Whenever I show up at a pro rodeo, they're surprised because I'm the only African-American that participates in the bareback ride, nationwide.

HILLARD: Tre Hosley is the son of Andrew, who we met earlier. He drives an old car with plenty of rodeo miles on it. In the trunk is a worn saddle, two pairs of chaps, a pair of gloves.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Anybody from Compton? Nope. Tre Hosley.

T. HOSLEY: Yeah, a lot of people, like judges and announcers, they all come up to me and ask me like, how in the world did you get to doing this?

HILLARD: Compton is still a city mapped by unseen boundaries that define one gang territory from another. When Tre comes back home, he makes sure he's always wearing one of his rodeo belt buckles. For Derrick Jennings, it's his hat.

JENNINGS: Hey bro, I'm a cowboy. Or, look here, you can put those guns down. I'm no threat. I pose no threat.

HILLARD: The kids growing up in Compton see more than most. If they're lucky, one day it might be a couple cowboys riding down their street. For NPR News, I'm Gloria Hillard. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.