It's late April at the Stagecoach Festival, a massive country music festival in California's Coachella Valley, and the biggest stars in this corner of the over 600 acres of festival grounds are the Compton Cowboys and their horses, which roam on the group's reimagined ranch space. Throughout the three-day event, a steady stream of festivalgoers have been visiting the recreated ranch under the fest's Yee Haw tent, communing with nature and learning the history of the Compton Cowboys, a group of childhood friends turned equestrians who are carrying on the rich legacy of Black cowboys.
Stagecoach marks the Compton Cowboys' first appearance at a music festival, though it certainly won't be their last. (They'll take part in the upcoming Palomino Festival in Pasadena, Calif. on July 9.) For Randy Savvy, a musician and co-founder of the Compton Cowboys, it's the continuation of a life-long mission set in motion by his aunt, Mayisha Akbar.
"She grew up always wanting to be a cowgirl," Savvy tells Wide Open Country. "She'd sit around and watch westerns with my grandfather...She was so obsessed with horses. She was that young girl that was like, 'I'm gonna be a cowgirl one day.'"
Akbar lived out her dream of being a cowgirl when she moved to Richland Farms, a rural pocket in the city of Compton and the largest agricultural zone in Los Angeles County.
"It's a farm town and it happens to be the original ground zero for Compton. The city of Compton was built around this farmland and the founder of Compton actually established this farmland as a place for farmers," Savvy says. "So she stumbled across this town and was like, 'I could be a cowgirl and live in the city?' For her, it was like a dream come true."
After her son was injured in a gang-related shooting, Akbar decided to stay and make a difference in her community.
"That's kind of how my family always was," Savvy says. "My family's very community forward."
Akbar created the Compton Junior Posse, an after-school program that taught kids in the community how to care for horses as well as the agricultural skills necessary to maintain a ranch. In 2018, Savvy took over for Akbar, renaming the group the Compton Junior Equestrians and carrying on his aunt's mission to keep kids safe through urban farming. Savvy describes the non-profit as the "snowball effect of her day one mission to use the horses to keep the kids off the streets."
"The horse becomes a mirror when you're first dealing with [them]. If [kids] have an issue with being loud and aggressive and they take that to the horse, the horse is going to react poorly to that," Savvy says. "They're not going to get the results they want. So [they think] 'What do I have to do to change myself so this horse will let me touch him?' They start figuring it out on their own and we help guide that process. You just watch them change how they deal with stuff over time...They seem like they feel good from the inside and they're learning all these really cool skills."
Savvy says the Compton Cowboys program not only changes how kids see themselves, but how they see their community represented.
"The original Compton ethos is in the heart of the farms so we feel so good to be able to fully reflect and represent what Compton is and what it was from the beginning," Savvy says. "Being a staple and being something like community role models and figures that the kids can look up to — we feel like we're creating a little utopia. Nothing could ever be perfect, but we try to create that getaway escape. The ranch is a little oasis in the hood ...Richland Farms is now kind of the front runner for what Compton is representing on the world stage."
As the Compton Cowboys maintain their "think global, act local" mission, Savvy says the next step is to increase the visibility of Black cowboys in popular culture. Though historians estimate that one in four cowboys were Black, that reality has rarely been reflected in western flicks. Though in recent years Black storytellers such as The Harder They Fall co-writer and director Jeymes Samuel have showcased Black cowboys and cowgirls onscreen, Hollywood still has a lot of work to do.
"My father...he loves western movies...He had a really grand appreciation for westerns, but his grievance of a lifetime is that there were never any Black westerns that were really amazing and that he loved. He always felt like 'How do they have such a stranglehold on the platforms that only white cowboy westerns are [popular]?' He was like, 'Bro, there's Black cowboys everywhere,'' Savvy says. "Our company is starting to write and develop and tell those stories...We want to be that boutique creative platform where we're telling the Black cowboy stories through film and television and we're setting ourselves up pretty nicely to be able to do that."
The Compton Cowboys have already gained recognition on the national stage. In 2020, the group organized over 100 riders to take part in a Peace Ride for George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
In March of 2022, members of the Compton Cowboys Junior Equestrians appeared as part of Beyoncé's performance of "Be Alive" during the 94th Academy Awards.
Savvy says he wants to continue to share the Compton Cowboys' message through fashion (the group currently has a partnership with Ariat), music and more.
In addition to his work as an equestrian, Savvy is a talented musician, who released the single "Colorblind," mixed by Dr. Dre, in 2021.
"I'm bringing in what I call 'street country.' I'm bringing this twist on the sound and opening up the space, because that's what's gonna help people connect. That's part of our overall mission — connect to the kids who are listening to all the hottest stars...We want you to be able to see what we're doing. We want you to be able to hear what it sounds like. We want you to have [the] food....so that you can taste what this lifestyle means — farm to table," Savvy says. "It's all about getting Black faces in those spaces."
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