When you think of Western movies, your mind may not immediately go to Philadelphia as a staple of cowboy culture. Yet, the urban riders of North Philadelphia have been an integral part of cowboy culture and its heritage for over a century.
The 2020 movie “Concrete Cowboys”, directed by Ricky Staub, tells the story of Cole (portrayed by Caleb McLaughlin), a teenager with a turbulent past sent to live with his estranged father (Idris Elba), a prominent member of the Urban Black Cowboys community in Philadelphia. Reluctant at first, Cole is gradually pulled into the Fletcher Street Riders tight-knit community, where he eventually finds a sense of purpose and belonging as he develops an improbable bond with an untamed horse named Boo.
While the movie is fictitious, the story it portrays was inspired by real life events taking place in the streets of Philadelphia. In fact, some of its casts are actual members of the African-American community riding in the Fletcher Street Riding Club (FSURC). The movie encompasses some components of their lifestyle and is a great eye-opener to the struggles that these city riders repeatedly face.
“Horses Can Heal Troubled Souls”
This quote, by photographer Ann Sophie Lindstrom, who documented the lives of the FSURC riders for several months, not only portrays the sad truth about mental health often being neglected in black communities and their struggling youth, but also demonstrates the power of horses in healing. By mimicking our emotions, and mirroring our souls, horses have shown to help develop self-awareness, improve self-esteem, and promote emotional healing. As depicted in the movie, the real life and iconic Fletcher Street Riding Club offers teenagers the opportunity to spend time with horses and learn horsemanship. By fostering a safe community, FSURC strives to keep young kids out of trouble and away from nearby drug trafficking and gang violence.
Portrayal of African-Americans in Cowboy Culture:
The portrayal of Black Cowboys in Western culture is known for having been underrepresented, not only in Philadelphia, but in various cities across the US. In 2018, Rory Doyle, a photographer who documented the lives of the Black cowboys’ community in the Mississippi Delta, was one of the strong voices advocating for their representation in American Western culture, blaming Hollywood for romanticizing and whitewashing the image of cowboys. In an interview with ABC News, he stated: “What Wild West movies don’t show is that African Americans have always been an integral part of cowboy culture”, adding, “it is so much more than just John Wayne or the Marlboro man.”
The movie Concrete Cowboys has helped shed a light on the inequalities faced by many African-Americans in Western cowboy culture and, on a wider scale, their underrepresentation in equine sports.
How to support FSURC and their cause:
To this day, FSURC and other riding clubs in North Philly are struggling to preserve their heritage in the face of gentrification. As their stables and horses face the constant threat of eviction and shutdown, the members of its community are often forced to start over again. In light of the recent attention brought in by the “Concrete Cowboys” movie, the FSURC has set up a GoFundMe page for anyone who wishes to contribute to raising money for a new stable, and help continue to support black youth in Philadelphia.
To contribute today, please visit the FSURC GoFundMe page: https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-fsurc-get-back-in-the-saddle
Post photo by the Toronto International Film Festival, allowed use for noon-commercial and educational purposes.