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The Compton Cowboys: The New Generation of Cowboys in America's Urban Heartland

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“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.

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.


272 pages, Hardcover

First published April 28, 2020

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Walter Thompson-Hernández

4 books24 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 215 reviews
Profile Image for Monica **can't read fast enough**.
1,033 reviews335 followers
May 9, 2022
2 1/2 rounding up to 3

I'm sorry to say that this was a disappointment for me. I was so excited to order and read this but for me the writing was choppy and not very engaging. The content was there, just not executed as well as I had wished. This is a history/culture that deserves to be written about and appreciated and hopefully I will find another book about the Compton Cowboys at some point that will be a better fit for me.

Where you can find me:
•(♥).•*Monica Is Reading*•.(♥)•
Twitter: @monicaisreading
Instagram: @readermonica
Profile Image for Rincey.
786 reviews4,587 followers
October 3, 2020
3.5 stars

This is more like a long-form profile / feature piece and I would've loved more history around the idea of black cowboys in America. But that might be an entirely different book.

Watch me talk about this book more here: https://youtu.be/liqBH5CvJm0
Profile Image for Lee Woodruff.
Author 14 books217 followers
April 12, 2020
Readers worldwide were captivated by the 2018 New York Times feature article about a group of African American men and women who defy stereotypes and continue the centuries old and proud tradition of black cowboys. But there’s a catch. Rather than green grass and wide-open spaces, their pasture lands are one of the most notorious communities in LA, with its history of rap legends and gang violence. Founded in 1988, the Compton Jr. Posse provided local youth with an alternative to the streets, connecting them with the rich tradition of black cowboys in American culture. The book contains a series of incredible characters from a former incarcerated drug dealer who is now a mentor, a single mother dreaming of winning a national rodeo championship and a group of twentysomethings who experience true freedom and protection when on horseback. The book is a wonderful portrait of people pushing back against an environment pockmarked with tragedy, triumph, transformation, racial tensions and ultimately redemption and belonging.
June 22, 2020
This book surprised me in several ways. First, I had no clue that farms existed in Compton, California. I’m a thirty-something white woman from the Southeastern U.S.; all I know about Compton is what I’ve heard in lyrics from groups like N.W.A. and seen in photos shown to me by the media.
The image of a group of Black men and women riding horses through the streets of a dangerous neighborhood in Los Angeles County grabbed my interest. I had to know more: how did farms end up in Compton to begin with? How did the gangs affiliated with the area feel about the cowboys? Was this a hobby or a way of life?

Walter Thompson-Hernández answered all of my questions and more in The Compton Cowboys. The author vividly remembers the group of Black riders from his childhood and decided to investigate recently as a New York Times reporter.

Mayisha Akbar founded The Compton Jr. Posse back in 1988 in hopes of providing local youth with an alternative to the streets while teaching the history of Black cowboys often left out of American history.
The organization relied heavily on wealthy donors to keep the program alive and afforded the students with opportunities they may never have had otherwise. Several of Mayisha’s students went on to be successful riders and pursue their dreams of rodeo championships.
Readers meet several of these former students and learn what led them to the ten-acre Richland Farms community and how it has changed their lives through the years.
As Mayisha nears retirement, her nephew Randy steps up to reimagine The Compton Cowboys for a new generation.

This is a fascinating and inspiring story that explores trauma, race, and community. The complex relationships these riders have with each other, their families, and their city are captured in rich detail. This story ends with a hopeful outlook for the future and I for one am rooting on this group of riders and the dreams they have for their community.

I loved this touching paragraph in the author’s note:

“‘We’re different’ is a sentiment that I continued to feel from the cowboys as I spent more time on the ranch and became embedded in their lives. Many of them had been ridiculed by their friends and family for riding horses, yet they continued to ride anyway. Every cowboy rode for different reasons. But each rode horses because it healed them and healed members of their families and their community. Being soft could easily get you killed in Compton, but softness was also one of the most valuable currencies inside the ranch.”

I highly recommend The Compton Cowboys to readers who enjoy non-fiction/history/sociology/culture.

For more reviews, visit www.rootsandreads.wordpress.com
Profile Image for Alex Bear.
128 reviews24 followers
May 11, 2020
Well, that was.... ok.
Though I respect the subjects of this book, and find them interesting, the book kind of jumped around too much and felt like an anthology of these different people's lives rather than getting a central theme to tie them together (besides they all happen to ride horses).

It also feels like the assignment could have lasted longer, since I don't really feel any kind of completion to any of their stories.
Profile Image for Kate Olson.
2,200 reviews724 followers
June 22, 2020
Fascinating and new-to-me subject matter: 5 STARS

Writing style: 3 STARS

Overall: Despite my opinion that this book was overwritten and could have used an editor with a ruthless red pen, I’m very happy to have read it. The preface and the author’s note were actually my favorite parts and I’m wondering if maybe this book would have worked better for me if the author had inserted himself in it given his deep ties to the Compton community and own reckoning with his heritage - his writing seemed to flourish in those parts of the book. Regardless, I was happy to have learned more about the Compton Cowboys after first being introduced to them in a NYT article during the Black Lives Matter protests of June 2020.
Profile Image for Paris (parisperusing).
187 reviews8 followers
May 20, 2020
"The cowboys trotted past the stage, waving at their city. They received the loudest applause of the day. The brown faces in the audience cheered because they had never seen black cowboys before. The black faces cheered because it had been years since they had. The cheers forced smiles from the edges of each cowboy's mouth as they continued riding west on Compton Boulevard, toward the farms, toward the fading sun."

A heartbreakingly gallant story of loss, survival, and undying hope, Thompson-Hernández’s heroic inquest into the resilient lives of the Black riders known as the Compton Cowboys is one helluva foray. Undermining long-held prejudices against one of the nation’s most wounded cities, The Compton Cowboys is an urgent, inspiring love letter to Black and brown youth written beautifully by one of their own.

(Many thanks to William Morrow for supplying me a copy in advance to support this stellar debut.)
Profile Image for Surreal Lewis.
2 reviews
May 10, 2020
The Compton Cowboys is important for the same reason that the Kendrick Lamar music that serves as its soundtrack is. This book gives a voice to overlooked people and places without having to find resolution. The author doesn’t seek resolution, but reality.

Thompson-Hernandez makes these larger-than-life figures feel real as their blood, tears, triumphs, and tattoos. In the past few years, the Compton Cowboys have gained media attention as the heroic figures they are, black men and women on horses at the edge of the modern Wild West. But beneath that glory and novelty is the harsh reality of life for black and brown people around the world, across the country, and here in Los Angeles. Reading about Kenneth’s struggles with alcoholism, Keiara’s search for home, or Randy’s stress and worry as he plans for the future, add the depth of humanity that makes a superhero a superhero.

Like Kendrick Lamar, Thompson-Hernandez gives kids heroes to look up to while still acknowledging how fragile a hero can be. No one is bulletproof and no bullet discriminates. At any moment in places like Compton, friends and families can be lost to cops and neighbors. The reality of violence, peer pressure, and addiction adds an urgency to the book, knowing any of these characters’ stories could have ended mid-sentence. Simultaneously, that reality adds triumph and resilience to every victory in this story. Thompson Hernandez strikes a balance between pain and glory, between CA sunshine and rain, and that balance is what makes this book as beautifully alive as it is.

This review may be biased. Like the author, I’m a young man from Los Angeles born with the duality of being both black and Mexican and the love of language. I may have less hurdles opening this book. Many of its characters, stories, and dialects are already real to me; still, many aren’t. If anything, that’s the point of The Compton Cowboys. Personally, it made me reflect on the meaning of opportunity, on how I can feel both at one and worlds away from people who look like me and live near me – even the two halves of myself – because of opportunities I and my family were given. No story exists in a vacuum, and there is something true and meaningful in everyone to be found in this book’s humanity and horses, no matter how distant you are.
Profile Image for Erik.
331 reviews215 followers
July 11, 2021
New York Times writer, Walter Thompson-Hernandez, write about the lives and livelihoods of a group of Black cowboys in The Compton Cowboys.

Thirty years ago, Mayisha, a woman in Compton, CA, started a program for at-risk youth in her community that introduced them to horses, rodeos, and riding. Fast forward to 2020 and as Mayisha retires, a collective of Black cowboys, all of whom came from Mayisha's youth program, are set to takeover the program and invest themselves back into their community. Each member of the Cowboys has a unique backstory - from alcoholism to gang membership to harassment at the hands of the police - and it is these stories that propel them to fight hard to make their community better and stronger. As the ranch at which they work is in transition, the question is if they are up to the task to build anew on already strong foundation.

The Compton Cowboys is an interesting read, but Thompson-Hernandez did not go as deep as I would have really liked to see him go with this topic. While he does a nice job centering the stories of each member of the Compton Cowboys, I wish the book had included more information about the ranch where they all work, the youth program they all came from, and history about black cowboys in California and in Compton. Adding these elements would have made a good book into a great book.
Profile Image for Dominique.
252 reviews2 followers
May 5, 2020
After reading the original NYT article on the Compton Cowboys in 2018, I was so excited to hear that Thompson-Hernandez was writing an entire book about them. This book gives each one of the Cowboys (and Cowgirls!) a chance to share their story with the world - and each is amazing and inspiring in their own way.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book for so many reasons. It’s a book that easily grasps your attention with every page, presents very interesting facts and information throughout (especially about Compton and its history), and provides such vivid detail about everyone that I actually feel like I got to know each member of “The Gang” personally (which is especially cool after following them on Instagram for the last couple of years). The Compton Cowboys are a very inspiring, talented, and downright dope group of individuals and I hope to hear more about them in the media after this wonderful book.

Thank you to William Morrow, Edelweiss, and the author, Walter Thompson-Hernandez for the e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for SuperWendy.
921 reviews244 followers
June 30, 2021
I wanted to like this a lot more than I actually did. It lacks any kind of linear structure. Chapters bounce from one cowboy to the next reading a bit like "Day in the Life" material but not doing a deep dive. There's somewhat of a common theme of "next generation taking over for the previous" but it's largely left dangling without much closure. I felt like I was skating along the surface.
Profile Image for Katra.
837 reviews39 followers
October 12, 2020
Thanks to NetGalley and William Morrow for making and advance copy of this title available for n honest review.

My feelings are a little conflicted about this book. At times, I almost put it down, and at others, I couldn't.

For me, the largest hurdle was the language. While the profanity was all in quotations and no doubt authentic for the locale and culture, it was hard on my unaccustomed ear. I also had a little difficulty keeping track of who was who. This got easier by the end of the book, but was initially a struggle. I was reading an ebook. I'm hoping that the physical version will contain a few photographs that might help future readers sort people out more quickly. I was also frustrated at reaching the end of the book and not knowing how things end. There's not much that could have been done about that given that no one, including the cowboys themselves, know how things will end.

On the plus side, this close look at a group struggling for survival and dignity in difficult circumstances is a tale that needs to be told and heard. Compton, California and horse ranches aren't two things that immediately come together in most people's minds. The town is noted for gang-related violence and all its related evils. Yet, in the midst of this virtual war zone is a farm, a farm that has existed for generations, a farm that fights to survive in the middle of the city. This farm gives hope, focus, peace, purpose, and a sense of identity to the those connected to it. I was caught up in the ongoing battles with negative stereotypes, turf wars, demons of addiction, and personal hauntings pitted against the bonds forged with often equally traumatized horses. I was caught up in the way the bonds with the horses led to human bonds and a desire to widen those connections to others in Compton and in other communities.

Overarching is the menace of financial instability as donors dry up and the farm struggles to survive. I hope it does. It has power to heal.
Profile Image for Pamela.
869 reviews19 followers
May 15, 2020
We need diverse books. We need more books like this. I grew up near Compton, in Long Beach and knew what a rough area that was; never knew about cowboys and farms, and black cowboys no less.

The writing was decent, except for the foul language by the people being profiled. It gives the book authenticity but sometimes was grating. This is a subject that definitely needs a spotlight, but the organization, frame of the book left me wanting.

The book felt like the plot was thin, where was this going? The overall theme seemed to be the owner, Keiara, wanting to sell the farm and retire, and the new owners may not succeed with their vision. Yet there was many diversions from this story. There are several in-depth focus on specific people. We get to know the individuals, these unknown cowboys in an urban setting. And we see their lives entirely, the good and the bad.

Highly recommend to read the author’s note at the end. It places the book more firmly, adds more to the overall story.

Thanks to William Morrow/HarperCollins Publishers and NetGalley for an advance review copy of this book. Although, I had this advanced review eBook copy, I listened to the audio from my public library instead. I heard these voices, and feel it is an excellent way to read this book. The only caveat is that I missed on the photographs that are associated with the published book.
Profile Image for Christine.
954 reviews12 followers
May 29, 2020
I won a copy of this book from Goodreads Giveaways.

I found the main premise of this book to be really compelling, and it definitely made me want to look more into the Compton Cowboys, the history of the Compton Junior Posse, urban cowboys in current America and also the history of black cowboys. This actual book, though, felt a little disjointed to me, and it felt like the stories didn't mesh in the way I'd hoped they would. There wasn't much of a "narrative" to help weave it together, besides the fact that they were all members of the Compton Cowboys and had known each other a long time. So it's a good book, but it left me a little disappointed about what could have been.
Profile Image for Denise Kruse.
1,053 reviews11 followers
July 8, 2020
This chronicling of black cowboys is contemporary and macho. Stories about gangs, drugs, prison, cops and not a lot about the actual care of horses, the parades and rodeos, etc. The author writes about first seeing the black cowboys of Compton, “They seemed ethereal— like superheroes on the back of mystic creatures.” Having had that impression myself, I wanted more “cowboy” and more history; the author only alludes to their Louisiana roots.
Profile Image for Zoë.
174 reviews19 followers
July 2, 2020
I listened to the audiobook, which probably is not the recommended format for this piece. I struggled with the "vignette" style, the jumping around, and in trying to find a cohesive narrative to follow.

I am, however, glad to have learned something new, and that the author worked diligently to bring this story to us.
Profile Image for KC.
2,404 reviews
May 12, 2020
An in depth look at cowboys of Compton, California and how one woman, one farm, and a whole lot of horses saved the lives of many at risk individuals. Truly inspirational.
Profile Image for Ryan Kelly.
29 reviews5 followers
February 17, 2021
“Horses opened spaces for love to re-emerge - a love that the streets had once taken away. The horses listened when nobody else would and showed up when nobody else did. Slowly hardened glares turned into smiles and layers upon layers of pain began to dissolve.”

Was wildly intrigued by this book before I began to read it. Wish it was more of a history based background of black cowboys in LA instead of narrative based stories of individuals but that may be a whole different book. There wasnt really any cohesiveness that tied the stories together which made the book seem to jump around too much for my liking.

Overall - made me interested to learn more about the history of black cowboys and for that I am grateful !
Profile Image for Gwenn Mangine.
226 reviews3 followers
February 4, 2021
I loved this book. Devoured it in one sitting. This was fascinating and I feel like I I need to know more.
Profile Image for Karen.
86 reviews4 followers
April 5, 2022
The writing style could have been better at facilitating a personal connection with each cowboy and had a fuller storyline, but still an incredibly interesting read! I’ve been a fan of Kendrick Lamar for a long time but this book helped me understand and vibe with his music more deeply.
Profile Image for Katelyn Willett.
70 reviews
April 29, 2020
Compelling stories about the struggles of the Compton cowboys. You get to know the members of this unique group through stories of hardships and hurdles, some self inflicted while others stemming from this volatile neighborhood . Before picking up this book , I knew very little about life in Compton (outside of rap ) and had no idea a group of black cowboys in Compton existed . Interesting read , but I wish there was more of a wrap up in the end for all the members- specifically Kenneth. At times I was frustrated with the choices of the characters, at other times I felt their pain and wanted to cry. Moving story , would recommend . I received this ARC from goodreads giveaways .
Profile Image for Kathy.
1 review2 followers
July 7, 2020
I generally prefer fiction books, but this account of The Compton Cowboys has just as much narrative.
The writing has a very good flow and is full of moments that make you feel an intimate connection with the Cowboys, that the author surely has.
Profile Image for Tyra.
288 reviews2 followers
May 1, 2020
Trigger warnings: Rape and alcoholism. I like that this was a non fiction book that did feel non fiction, it felt like the reporter really became friends with the cowboys and cowgirls.
Profile Image for Lex.
113 reviews
September 18, 2021
This book opens a fascinating window into black cowboy culture on the dangerous streets of Los Angeles -- a lifestyle I didn't even know existed before picking it up. In "The Compton Cowboys" Thompson-Hernandez introduces readers to the organization of the book's same name, a small group of riders struggling to save a failing inner city ranch. They hope to carry on its mission of leveraging the power of riding to heal their community. It's an uphill battle made more complicated by gang rivalries, childhood traumas, addiction, and the constant threat of violence. As a reader you get to experience this personally with each rider.

Thompson-Hernandez truly immersed himself in the lives of the cowboys to tell this story. It's an impressive, heartwrenching, and heartwarming piece of journalism. After reading the author's note at the end of the book, I almost wish he had written it in first person! I know that would be challenging as a New York Times journalist, but it might have helped with flow and organization.

As it was, the organization was my main hangup with the book. In the early chapters it was tough for me to remember which cowboy was which (the jumps in time didn't help), and I wish the individual chapters introducing each member of the group came before the collective ones. I also felt like the book got repetitive at times, with some concepts (ex. English vs. Western riding and why switching between them was problematic in the hood) repeated over and over to the point it started to annoy me. Still, those were small annoyances compared to the power of the story overall. As a white girl from the suburbs, "The Compton Cowboys" felt like a totally different world and one I'm glad Thompson-Hernandez gave me the chance to explore.
Profile Image for Bonnie.
1,240 reviews4 followers
January 18, 2021
I love "Hidden Figures" style studies in cultures that are under-served, because they deserve more time and attention. I had first heard of the Compton Cowboys group early last year, and immediately went into record-scratch. Wait, what? An urban landscape like Compton has Black cowboys? I immediately desired the book and purchased it last summer. But I just got around to reading it now, because I've been hoarding books like no tomorrow.

It's more accurate to call this book an ethnography than a history, because it delves more closely into the culture, members, traditions, and conflicts than the history of the group (although origins are alluded to). The Compton Cowboys are not without their share of trials, whether familial or economic, but it is a love of horses and community that bring them together. In 2018, their mentor Mayisha has decided to retire. Her nephew Randy has taken over and immediately decided on changes that may lose them donors. Throughout this main conflict, we get to know many of the cowboys and their families, as well as the reasons they were drawn to ranching and horses in the first place.

I greatly enjoyed learning about the Compton Cowboys, and I hope Walter Thompson-Hernandez delves further into other unknown subcultures. I also am curious to know how the cowboys are doing and if they can make a go of their shift in direction. This is a must-read for fans of ethnography and sociology/anthropology.
Profile Image for Juliette.
353 reviews
January 25, 2022
While the pain of loss and violence was almost unbearable, horses were often the answer to years of undiagnosed trauma. The horses allowed them to heal and to cope. The everyday routine of taking care of the animals gave them a sense of purpose. Randy recognized how lucky they were to have the horses and the ranch; it was an outlet and a form of therapy that most kids growing up in gang territories did not have. He believed that equine therapy continued to help him and his friends heal, and more so, he believed that the horses healed from their own traumatic pasts as well.

I enjoyed the individual profiles of each of the cowboys in the ranch. Many were heartbreaking and showed the resilience of the cowboys, especially Keiara.

I wish, however, that time had been spent on the history of Black riders in America. Throughout the book, it was mentioned and mourned that the history was not taught in schools. Thompson-Hernández did not attempt to teach us that history (or to use his author’s notes to point us to references). I think the book would have been richer if that history had been included to educate us.
Profile Image for Diane.
254 reviews10 followers
December 10, 2020
Interesting book about interesting collective and individual stories. Animals bring amazing healing into our lives, whether it be a dog or horse, etc. They love and accept us unconditionally and fully. They provide companionship that saves us from ourselves and our circumstances and let’s us be someone unknown in the real world. Growing up in the 90s and having visited Compton to cheer games and seen what it’s like for the many youth, I can fully see how this ranch and the horses played rescue for riders in this book. It provided them with an escape that is everything at times and just enough in other times.
Profile Image for Carol Ann.
281 reviews6 followers
October 30, 2020
What a great book! This community is 20 minutes away from where I grew up, but it is a world away. I never even knew about the Richland Farms.

Here is their website: https://www.comptoncowboys.com/team

Their website says they are, "A collective of lifelong friends on a mission to uplift their community through horseback and farming lifestyle, all the while highlighting the rich legacy of African-Americans in equine and western heritage."

It is a beautiful book with very personal stories.
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