“Thompson-Hernández's portrayal of Compton's black cowboys broadens our perception of Compton's young black residents, and connects the Compton Cowboys to the historical legacy of African Americans in the west. An eye-opening, moving book.”— Margot Lee Shetterly, New York Times bestselling author of Hidden Figures
A rising New York Times reporter tells the compelling story of The Compton Cowboys, a group of African-American men and women who defy stereotypes and continue the proud, centuries-old tradition of black cowboys in the heart of one of America’s most notorious cities.
In Compton, California, ten black riders on horseback cut an unusual profile, their cowboy hats tilted against the hot Los Angeles sun. They are the Compton Cowboys, their small ranch one of the very last in a formerly semirural area of the city that has been home to African-American horse riders for decades. To most people, Compton is known only as the home of rap greats NWA and Kendrick Lamar, hyped in the media for its seemingly intractable gang violence. But in 1988 Mayisha Akbar founded The Compton Jr. Posse to provide local youth with a safe alternative to the streets, one that connected them with the rich legacy of black cowboys in American culture. From Mayisha’s youth organization came the Cowboys of today: black men and women from Compton for whom the ranch and the horses provide camaraderie, respite from violence, healing from trauma, and recovery from incarceration.
The Cowboys include Randy, Mayisha’s nephew, faced with the daunting task of remaking the Cowboys for a new generation; Anthony, former drug dealer and inmate, now a family man and mentor, Keiara, a single mother pursuing her dream of winning a national rodeo championship, and a tight clan of twentysomethings--Kenneth, Keenan, Charles, and Tre--for whom horses bring the freedom, protection, and status that often elude the young black men of Compton.
The Compton Cowboys is a story about trauma and transformation, race and identity, compassion, and ultimately, belonging. Walter Thompson-Hernández paints a unique and unexpected portrait of this city, pushing back against stereotypes to reveal an urban community in all its complexity, tragedy, and triumph.
The Compton Cowboys is illustrated with 10-15 photographs.
About the Author
Based in Los Angeles, Walter Thompson-Hernández began his career with the New York Times in 2018 and reports for the paper’s multi-media reporting team covering subcultures and off-beat communities around the world. He has also written for NPR, Fusion, The Guardian, Remezcla, and other media outlets, and has reported from six continents and throughout the United States. He attended the University of Portland and received his Master’s degree in Latin American Studies from Stanford University. Before working for the New York Times he was enrolled in the U.C.L.A. Chicano Studies Ph.D. program.
“Thompson-Hernández's portrayal of Compton's black cowboys broadens our perception of Compton's young black residents, and connects the Compton Cowboys to the historical legacy of African Americans in the west. An eye-opening, moving book.”
— Margot Lee Shetterly, New York Times bestselling author of Hidden Figures
“Walter Thompson-Hernández has written a book for the ages: a profound and moving account of what it means to be black in America that is awe inspiring in its truth-telling and limitless in its empathy. Here is an American epic of black survival and creativity, of terrible misfortune and everyday resilience, of grace, redemption and, yes, cowboys.”
— Junot Díaz, Pulitzer prize-winning author of This is How You Lose Her
“With the raw quality of a hand-held documentary, The Compton Cowboys gallops into the origin story of this unique organization and its now-fragile legacy… With the eye of a photographer, [Thompson-Hernández] captures the minute ways a community cedes power to another. Zooming in on granular detail, he fleshes out a neighborhood in all its colors, scents and conversational rhythms… this is a rare, un-sensationalized portrait of a community fighting to reclaim its turf… In words and photographs, Thompson-Hernández reveals a three-dimensionality of people and place that can result only from time, trust and compassion.”
— Los Angeles Times
“This vivid group portrait of contemporary black cowboys at Richland Farms, in Compton, is a story both of heritage and of urban unrest, gang violence, and confrontations with the police…Their activities, the author shows, sparked a culture clash in the wider community, but they have also revived interest in the black cowboy life style, indelibly captured in the Cowboys’ motto: ‘Streets raised us. Horses saved us.’”
— New Yorker
“New York Times journalist Walter Thompson-Hernández debuts with an inspiring report…[and] succeeds in capturing the redemptive powers of this unique community and the human-animal bonds it fosters. This feel-good profile shines a spotlight on a worthy cause.” — Publishers Weekly
— Publishers Weekly