A safe haven for at-risk youth, the Compton Junior Equestrians Program keeps kids in the saddle and off the streets.
Written by Wendy Bowman
When Mayisha Akbar decided to close the Compton Junior Posse youth equestrians’ program she formed on three parcels of family farmland she and Louis Hook owned in the late 1980s, alumni members Jamie Vance and Randy Hook (Akbar’s nephew and Louis Hook’s son) decided to combine their educational, nonprofit, business and equine experience and continue the after-school program for the city’s at-risk youth. Now known as the Compton Junior Equestrians (CJE), the program based at Richland Farms offers an outlet where underserved African American youth in the city of Compton and surrounding areas can ride and care for horses as an alternative to dropping out of school, incarceration and poverty.
“Before the Compton Jr. Posse’s closure, I rallied with other Compton Cowboys alumni to try to keep the program open,” says Vance. “When we were unable to, most of the alumni felt disheartened and didn’t want to continue fighting. I couldn’t see all of Mayisha’s hard work go to waste, or for all the youth and community members who depended on our unique program to go without, so I tried different avenues. I even considered having programming at my house, by having the old Compton Jr. Posse horses make the five-minute commute, but with Mayisha’s guidance, I filed all the paperwork, made sure we had a plan, and Randy ensured we had access to the funds and horse property.”
The motivation for maintaining the program was bolstered by Vance and Hook’s need to give back to the community where they were raised. “We were given so much through the Compton Jr. Posse program and knew first-hand what it meant,” says Vance. “It helped me through college, to find a career path in nonprofit management and make many lifelong friends. It also kept me on track. Mayisha always made sure I kept my head on straight and learned how to manage the program back when it was CJP. While most of the girls in my neighborhood were focused on other things, she made sure I was being productive.”
“For Randy,” she adds, “the program kept him and his friends out of the streets, and it saved many youth’s lives. So many friends are lost to the streets. We are constantly saying, ‘I hope I get to graduate high school.’ Then, ‘I hope I make it past 25.’ Too many do not make it, and it helped us to make it.”
Geared toward youth who are underserved in education and extracurricular activities, the program currently is serving a pared-down roster of 12 individuals due to pandemic restrictions. Among the program’s mix of online and in-person instruction: therapeutic horseback riding, as well as basic gardening skills, such as hydroponics and composting. Pre-COVID, students also took field trips to other ranches, attended horse-related events and toured college campuses; Vance is hopeful that she and Hooks soon will be able to restart those activities.
The result of their efforts? Kids who didn’t want to complete assignments or participate in activities at the outset eventually getting in on the action. “We had a girl who was struggling with reading well into junior high school,” says Vance. “She was performing poorly in school and had zero motivation. At first, she was turned off by the fact that we require students to complete weekly assignments, but she was determined to stay in the program and ride. She made sure her CJE assignments were done, and her parents were so proud to see her getting her work done, and it slowly trickled down to her schoolwork. She’s still working on it, but she’s a thousand times better and we recognize each achievement.”
For Vance, providing this service is a duty that must be fulfilled, and she’s grateful to the many individual donors who have helped her and Hook continue the program. “There’s a quote that goes, ‘To [whom] much is given, much is required,’ ” she says. “I’ve been given many opportunities through CJP, and I love seeing the kids’ growth and how it shapes their futures,” she says. “I’ve been working with some of the kids for years, so just seeing who they are becoming does it for me. It’s like we can see ourselves in them…that was us.”
Photos courtesy of CJP