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Black Cowboys Ride Into Town
The Black Cowboy Association began its Oakland parade tradition back in 1975, sponsored by various community organizations over the years as a showcase of civic pride that pays homage to the southern country roots of many area residents. The Black Cowboy parade is always held each year the first Saturday of each October.
The horses of the parade were simply stunning and extraordinarily groomed. Riders in fanciful to serious garb came in both genders and in all ages, and the parade MC kept up the excitement on the mic with his sharp wit and call to spectators to get off the sidelines and into the streets to do the Cupid Shuffle.
Photo: Camille Dungy
But the biggest focus of the association is on youth as it aims to keep alive the important role of black cowboys in the old West. Some estimate as many as 25% of cowboys were African American in the effort to settle the California west after the Civil War.
Beyond the parade, year round the association maintains educational programs in the outlying suburbs and in local schools, and regularly hosts family campouts at horse ranches. Many people I spoke with from the group strongly believe that by connecting kids with nature through ranching activities, they can save lives. One cowboy shared with me how street-tough youth at the end of traditional options become humbled by the experience of caretaking a horse, and are almost instantly transformed.
Over the years, the parade route has moved and shifted around Oakland streets to accommodate traffic concerns, but it has always ended in tree-lined West Oakland, considered the heart of the city’s earliest black founding community. This year the parade concluded with a festival at historic DeFermery Park, with Zydeco music and BBQ wafting through the air, and a chance for youth to interact with the horses and their handlers. My own son received a lesson in lasso, and was successful in snagging the plastic bull by the horns; a moment in which he beamed with pride and confidence — a feeling the Black Cowboy Association aims to spread far and wide among more community youth.
To find out what you can do to take part in Black Cowboy events, and to learn ways to support this innovative organization, contact them via email, or check out their website.