HUMBLE– Black Cowboys, legendary African-American figures who drove great cattle herds across the early west, have been idealized in motion pictures, television, and books.
Capturing that rich Cowboy tradition through education and action keeps it real and alive in the hearts of African-Americans and those are several reasons for the 15th Annual Heritage Day Rodeo put on by the Black Professional Cowboys and Cowgirls Association (BPCCA).
“This is an event that celebrates the rich heritage of Black Cowboys and Cowgirls,” said Dwight Judge, who founded the BPCCA in 1999. “It is truly a family event with its emphasis on education and raising money to help kids get a start in life.”
The event, held at the Humble Civic Center, is sponsored and supported yearly by H-E-B and Silver Eagle Distributors and benefits the youth by providing a special BPCCA scholarship that helps youth with funding their college education.
“Supporting education is a H-E-B community pillar,” said James Harris, Director Supplier Diversity at H-E-B. “We are a proud sponsor each year and enjoy the celebration of rich African-American heritage of the cowgirls and cowboys who helped shape Texas history.”
Silver Eagle could not be reached for comment, but Judge also praised the sponsor for their vision and for supporting youth.
The group maintains a College Scholarship Fund through various fundraising activities. Scholarships are awarded to high school graduates attending a four year accredited university.
The cowboy serves as the great American icon representing courage, hardiness, and independence.
Images of Black cowboys have been scarce in popular culture giving the false impression that African-Americans were not among the men and women who settled the west. In reality, by the time the huge cattle drives of cowboy legend ended, at least 5,000 Black men worked as cowboys.
The word cowboy refers to the men who drove herds of cattle from ranch land in Texas over hundreds of miles of rough and dangerous terrain to the stockyards in the north.
A typical crew consisted of one trail chief, eight cowboys, a wrangler to take care of the horses, and a cook. One historian estimates that an average crew would have included two or three Black cowboys.
Judge said some of the main goals of “Heritage Day” is celebrating the rich culture and traditions of the African-American Families and is laid out to bring families together in an atmosphere of tradition and fun and encourage interaction with cowboy, cowgirls and livestock.
“Heritage Day” consists of three major components: The Black “Heritage Day” Rodeo: featuring Black Cowboys & Cowgirls competing in the sport of Rodeo; Concerts: with the rich southern traditions of R&B and Zydeco music; and Exposition: including huge kid zone, games, rides, arts and crafts, and delicious Southern Cuisine.
It also showcases the talents of over 250 cowboys and cowgirls competing in several categories including Bull Riding, Bronco Riding, Calf Roping, Steer Wrestling and Women Barrel Race.
There is also a fun event called mutton-busting(sheep riding) competition for boys and girls and calf scrambling that encourages youth to participate and get a feel for cowboy traditions.
“This day is all about families,” he said. “It is a chance for young Black youth, men and women to see many African-American folks in charge and promoting their talents. This instills and builds the kind of mindset of pride and dignity we would like to see in all our young people.”
Since its inception, the scholarship fund has helped over 122 children each receiving $1000, attend HBCU, other colleges and universities across Texas and the U.S.
BPCCA also hosts a College Prep Forum as a learning and development seminar for youth.
A panel of Professional People and College Students share their personal experiences and provide valuable coaching tips that will help students in both college and real life.
“This is our way of giving back and investing in our future,” Judge said. “It is important that we do what we can to help our own. We give kids a chance and opportunity and the rest is up to them.”
Of those awarded scholarships, latest statistics show that over 60-percent go on to complete their education and get college degrees.
Each year, the event also raises awareness about a health issue or pay recognition to those who give unselfish services to the community.
This year the rodeo saluted cancer survivors and offered information to increase community awareness about the disease.
According to the American Cancer Society, there were 1.7 million new cancer cases diagnosed and about 580,000 Americans were projected to die of cancer – nearly 1,600 people a day.
It remains the second most common cause of death in the United States accounting for nearly one of every four deaths, with lung, breast, colorectum and prostate being the most common types.
Judge said families were reminded that screening and early detection are the keys to surviving the dreaded disease.
In past years have recognized armed services, EMR workers, firefighters, trail riders and Black educators.
He said Heritage Day is not only a salute but to showcase the desire, talent and encourage more African-Americans to develop an interest in the Cowboy tradition, but also bring in younger generations who will keep the traditions going after others have passed onto the ancestors.
“Black cowboys are an important part of our past, present, and future,” Judge said. “We strive to keep the legend alive and growing.”