Aisha McElroy, Executive Director of the Black Cowboy Coalition recalls being exposed for the first time to the Black Cowboy Parade in Oakland, California featuring cowboys, when she was about six years old. McElroy learned that a plethora of Black cowboys exist. She later discovered how many people do not know about their presence in cowboy culture.
“The challenge was nobody knew where to find them,” McElroy said.
McElroy—a Howard University alumna— was born in Washington, D.C. and raised in Oakland. The mother of two founded the Black Cowboy Coalition in 2021. It is based in Charlotte, North Carolina-based. McElroy’s background is in technology. She is a consultant who has self-funded launching the Black Cowboy’s Coalition’s programs, and maintaining the organization, by completing contractual IT work.
“One of the biggest reasons that I started this organization [The Black Cowboy Coalition] was to help the network of Black and brown cowboys grow. I created a somewhat of a Yellow Pages and it’s a cowboy directory on our website, www.blackcowboyco.org. It will point you to different barns, ranches and other cowboy related organizations that are located within the United States. It also points you to the saddle club organizations that are located within the United States,” McElroy said. “The core of the mission of the Black Cowboy Coalition is to connect cowboys to the community.”
McElroy added that individuals in saddle clubs get together to ride horses and network.
According to the executive director of the Black Cowboy Coalition, a plethora of Black-owned barns and ranches have phone numbers but lack websites. Many individuals primarily locate them by word of mouth. McElroy added that these establishments do not possess the financial capabilities to advertise much. However, they typically offer horse riding lessons.
The Black Cowboy Coalition also focuses on providing education, leadership and mentoring and community engagement. McElroy pointed out that youth and adults are provided with skills, knowledge, and exposure to opportunities within the agricultural industry. The nonprofit’s mission is accomplished by bringing programming to the youth and adults within inner city community settings in North Carolina and other locations in partnership with local barns and ranches. In addition to being exposed to horsemanship, urban farming and agricultural related trades are also explored.
“The Black Cowboy Coalition is executing a series of Agricultural Enrichment Programs throughout the United States,” McElroy also said.
The goal of the Agricultural Enrichment Program is to expose youth to agricultural trades by offering hands-on training within areas of horsemanship, food production, cattle handling and other career related opportunities that enhance the United States food supply chain. Black/African American, indigenous, and Hispanic youth between 13 -21, who are exposed to communities with elevated rates of poverty, substance abuse, and violence, are targeted to participate in the Black Cowboy Coalition’s programs.
Wanting a horse as a child, and being interested in them, was ingrained in McElroy. Thomas McElroy, 94, is Aisha’s grandfather is from Texas. While learning more about her family history from Thomas, Aisha was informed that ranchers who farmed land, raised livestock and rode horses are a part of her legacy in Beaumont, Texas.
She added that people have diverse opinions about variations of cowboys who range from ones who wrangle cattle to today’s cowboys. They are known as “urban cowboys.” Aisha said that typically do not raise cattle on hundreds of acres of land and are located in cities. These cowboys ride through neighborhoods.
William “Fat Pack” Bias is based in South Central Los Angeles. The cowboy who volunteers with a nonprofit called Urban Saddles is in Aisha’s network. Bias said that he teaches people of all nationalities and creeds in the community how to ride horses. The cowboy informs them about husbandry – the cultivation of crops and raising of animals for food— and the equestrian lifestyle, too. Therapeutic services are also offered.
Bias has been a horse owner for over 20 years. He has been riding for a long time. His interest in horses began because of family ties.
“Two of my uncles got into the cowboy lifestyle and went on to ride bulls,” Bias said.
He noted that some Black cowboys in the modern era are not just 95-year-old guys. Their stories remain under-told.
“The wear [cowboy] boots, but they also wear Jordans because that’s the time we’re in,” Bias explained.
He also mentioned that the cowboy lifestyle offers a lot of family values and strength. Bias’ 14-year-old son, Bryce Bias, plays football and rides horses.
“Horses are one of my favorite animals. To go out there and ride them, have a dad like my dad, and just to be out there riding with my friends are pluses,” Bryce said. “When I grow older, I’m going to be just like my dad.”