Friday, May 15, 2020

THE COMPTON COWBOYS :: Walter Thompson-Hernandez

A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is republished here with permission.

"Streets raised us. Horses saved us." Growing up in Southeast Los Angeles, Walter Thompson-Hernández wondered why there were no black cowboys. Then one day in Compton, he saw a show-stopping group of black horsemen riding down the street. "The cowboys had an allure to them that went beyond words. They seemed ethereal--like superheroes on the backs of mystic creatures who, I imagined, communicated in a language unknown to me."

Now a reporter for the New York Times, Thompson-Hernández reached out to the present-day Compton Cowboys. Many have ridden together since the 1990s and all started in the Compton Jr. Posse. Founded in the 1980s, the nonprofit was formed to provide at-risk youth an alternative to drugs and gangs, teaching them to care for themselves through caring for horses.

In The Compton Cowboys, Thompson-Hernández traces the roots of Compton, the organization and its members, providing heartrending insight into their varying paths to the Posse. They continue to challenge stereotypes and ride with "a free and rebellious spirit." While carrying the legacy of Compton's black cowboys, there is an effort to make the Cowboy culture accessible and cool--designer clothes, Air Jordans--and allow the armor that keeps them safe within their present realities. "Being black cowboys was as much about having a community where you could be your unapologetic self as it was about riding." Compelling and transforming, The Compton Cowboys is a story of history, race, tradition and pride, given life by Thompson-Hernández's insight and care.

STREET SENSE: History, culture, social commentary. This book has them all. But it's the stories of the riders, varied  and evocative, that make this a fascinating read. The inherent conflict of merging tradition and current culture to save at-risk youth is all important in a city with one of the highest death-by-gun rates in the country.

COVER NERD SAYS:  Just about anything with a horse on the cover at least grabs my initial attention. But cowboys in Compton? I was hooked. Smart placement and sizing of the title, which doesn't try to be smart or snazzy. Along with the powerful cover image, it quickly lets you know what you're going to find inside. Well done.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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