Compton Jr. Posse
Sometimes beauty exists where you least expect to find it; in the cracks in the pavement flowers can bloom.
Compton, California is a city with more than its share of gang violence. Immortalised in film and lyric, violence is a real part of daily life for many of Compton’s residents. But an alternative exists, in the shape of The Compton Jr. Posse, an after-school equestrian leadership program for at-risk youth.
“My love of horses began when I was young,” explained Mayisha Akbar, founder and executive director. “My father and I watched Western movies every weekend; it was our Saturday morning date. We’d cheer on the good guys and the Native Americans on
In 1888, land owner Griffith Dickenson Compton donated an area in Compton to the county known as Richmond Farms, on condition that this section of land always remain zoned for agricultural use. When Mayisha became aware of this enclave of mini-farms in Compton, she moved her family to the area in 1988.
There, Mayisha’s dream of owning horses and other small farm animals came true. “We purchased one horse for myself and one for each of my three children shortly
after moving to Compton,” she said.
Mayisha soon recognised that her small farm acted as a safe haven, not only for her family but also for other kids in the neighbourhood. Realising that the kids had a positive connection with her horses, Mayisha expanded her idea into an official
programme, and The Compton Jr. Posse was born.
Board member and marriage and family counsellor, Nicoletta Heidegger, put it this way: “Horses in general are very therapeutic and are often used as therapy for veterans, troubled youth or sufferers from PTSD and autism. Horses are very sensitive creatures; they mirror us. If we are feeling nervous or upset they pick up on that and respond in kind. They can give us huge insight into ourselves.”
The Compton Jr. Posse uses rescued and donated horses for their initiative, which has several components. Kids are taught to ride, they are educated in equine science and schooled in public speaking.
LaMar Benn, fifteen-year-old Compton Jr. Posse dressage rider, once found speaking to people very challenging. “I became a much more socially acceptable person. Compton Jr. Posse helped with the way I carry myself, my manners, how I dress and the way I
speak.” His goal is to include his love of horses in his future career.
“With horses,” LaMar said, “I feel at home. I have a close relationship with the horse I ride. When I’m riding I have no worries; my struggles roll off my back. I feel a huge sense of freedom and happiness I don’t normally have.”
The Compton Jr. Posse works as a positive alternative to the powerful lure of gangs and drugs that plague the area. Mayisha, the ultimate mother figure, doles out the perfect combination of firmness and encouragement to the children she welcomes into her year-round program. She helps students achieve a happier and more successful life by teaching them how to apply the work ethic they learn from her to their daily lives. Many of her students go on to earn scholarships to colleges and universities.
Best of all, the Compton Jr. Posse teaches the kids to give back to their
USA Olympic gold medalist, show jumper Will Simpson, started coaching the kids in 2009. “Working with the kids is ultra satisfying,” Simpson said. “I see students dedicating themselves to their horses, and I love watching that relationship grow. I see them transferring what they’ve learned with horses to everyday life.”
Simpson, who grew up on Chicago’s South Side, attributes his ability to identify with the kids to his rough start in life. “Teaching them is both gratifying and refreshing. The kids are thirsty for knowledge, and not self-conscious; they want to do their best. I give them the encouragement that I myself was given over the years,” he smiles. “It’s more than giving back for me. I get more out of it than they do.”
“If you can catch a kid, engage them, and ignite their passion, then you’ve got them for life,” Tracy Burnette, mother of a CJP student and board member explains. “It takes time for them to come out of their shells, but then I see a transformation take place. Confidence grows as they learn to take care of the horses and do things themselves; report cards get better, they have higher self-esteem.”
Twelve-year-old Compton Jr. Posse student, Zoie Brogdon, adds, “I’ve learned a lot of skills, how to ride English and western. I understand the science of what makes horses move. I understand how they feel, and how they should feel when we are riding them. I’ve learned how we can connect better with them. I am at the point now,” she adds,
“where I can help other kids. I am something of a role model.” Zoie embodies the spirit of ‘giving back’ that is at the heart of the Compton Jr Posse. “I just hope I can make them feel happy when they are here,” she said. “And that makes me happy.”
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