Monday, November 30, 2009

2009 Sportsman of the Year

In what has already been a great year for New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, it got better still as he was named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year award. He was chosen as the magazine's 56th honoree as the December 7 issue will hit newsstands on Wednesday. Jeter also is the first Yankee to be named SI's Sportsman.

Jeter's selection caps another outstanding season for the 35-year-old team captain and future Hall of Famer. In 2009 he batted .334 while leading the Yankees to their fifth World Series title in his 14 full seasons, and their record 27th in franchise history. On September 11 he passed Lou Gehrig's franchise mark for base hits, which now stands at 2,747. Derek Jeter led the American League by reaching base 289 times, finished second in the league in hits (212), third in batting average and on-base percentage (.406), fourth in runs (107) and eighth in stolen bases (30). He was named an All-Star for the 10th time, including the sixth time as a starter. He won his fourth American League Silver Slugger as the best hitting shortstop in the league and his fourth Gold Glove as the league's top defensive shortstop.

He lived up to his reputation as a clutch player, batting .344 with a .432 on-base percentage, three home runs and six RBIs. He batted .407 in the World Series to lead the Yankees to a six-game victory over the defending world champion Philadelphia Phillies. During the Series, Jeter was named the American League recipient of the Hank Aaron Award, given to the best hitter in each league, and the winner of the Roberto Clemente Award, given to the player who best displays skill on the field while giving back to the community off it.

It was that combination of on and off-field achievement that helped make Jeter this year's winner. Derek Jeter has always presented himself with class. His Turn 2 Foundation is one of the most efficient, effective foundations of its kind; and he's extremely generous with not just his money but with his time.

Jeter is the first baseball player to win the award solo since Cal Ripken Jr. in 1995. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were co-winners in 1998, as were Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in 2001. The Boston Red Sox won as a team in 2004. The Sportsman of the Year award has been given annually since Sport's Illustrated began publishing in 1954. The first winner was track star Roger Bannister, and subsequent honorees include Arnold Palmer (1960), Muhammad Ali (1974), Wayne Gretzky (1982), Michael Jordan (1991), Tiger Woods (1996 and 2000, the only two-time recipient), Lance Armstrong (2002) and Tom Brady (2005). Last year's winner was record-setting Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Obama's Host First State Dinner

President Barack Obama hosted the first state dinner of his administration last night and it was an evening of regal pageantry and symbolic politics in a tent on the White House South Lawn with a view of the Washington Monument. The president raised his glass toward his guest of honor, visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and toasted, "To the future that beckons all of us, let us answer its call. And let our two great nations realize all the triumphs and achievements that await us."

Dating back to 1874, state dinners are the most treasured and formal honor a U.S. president can offer a foreign dignitary, and the most coveted invitation in Washington. Traditionally, a new administration's first invitation goes to the leader of neighboring Canada or Mexico, though recent presidents also haven't followed that precedent. The dinner showed President Obama's intention to signal strong ties with India, the world's largest democracy, and go his own way in navigating the pomp and tradition of White House customs.

The event planned by First Lady Michelle Obama emphasized eco-friendly themes such as White House-grown herbs and lettuce served to guests and harvested magnolia branches -- from species native to both India and the United States -- in arrangements adorning the tent. The dinner was attended by more than 300 guests wearing tuxedos and gowns who were wined, dined and entertained. The guest list included political allies, a few opponents, celebrities and members of the Indian diplomatic community.

In a toast that followed the president's, Prime Minister Singh praised his host's leadership and prompted applause by citing the charm of the U.S. first lady. President Obama's election is "an inspiration to all those who cherish the values of diversity, democracy and equal opportunity," Singh said, adding that India "warmly applauded" the Nobel Peace Prize awarded President Obama for his calming effect and his leadership.

President Obama wore a black tuxedo, and the first lady wore a elegant strapless cream gown with silver accents gown by Indian-American designer Naeem Khan. Entertainment was by jazz vocalist Kurt Elling, Grammy and Academy Award-winner Jennifer Hudson, the National Symphony Orchestra directed by award-winning composer Marvin Hamlisch, Academy Award-winning Indian musician and composer A.R. Rahman, and The President's Own United States Marine Band.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Disney Goes Black

In the 72 years since Walt Disney's animated version of Snow White captivated audiences as "the fairest of them all," there have only been eight Disney princesses. These movies, toys, dresses and figurines, the Disney princesses have become global icons of childhood. Sleeping Beauty awakened by a kiss, Cinderella's clock striking midnight, Belle waltzing in the Beast's castle, Ariel with Prince Eric in the moonlit lagoon. These have become heroines that parents the world over feel safe to let their young girls mimic. And while Disney has brought us non-White princesses before -- Mulan and Pocahontas -- the newest princesses is a first. Tiana is the first Disney princess in more than a decade, and the first ever to be Black. Tiana is a beautiful Black princess from New Orleans. Princess Tiana is also the first modern Disney princess.

Thge message of Tiana is that Black girls can be as elegant as Snow White herself. It is another milestone in U.S. national imagery. Tiana's appearance this holiday season, comes on the heels of Michelle Obama becoming the first lady, the Obama girls in the White House, and the first line of Barbie dolls modeled on Black women, will crown an extraordinaryt year of visibility for Black American women. Considering Disney's influence and marketing to young girls, Princess Tiana might become the symbol of a culture-changing standard of feminine beauty. And given the popularity of Disney princesses at the company's theme parks, Web sites and videos, you're looking at 30 or 40 years of repetition.

Tony Award winner Anika Noni Rose voices Tiana. Other voices includes Oprah Winfrey and Terrence Howard. The Princess and the Frog opens in New York and Los Angeles November 25 and everywhere else on December 11. Tiana's doll and toy set were unveiled last month, and the Disney promotional machine is already humming.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Black Astronauts Conquering Space, the Final Frontier

Orthopedic surgeon Robert Satcher put his skills to work in space, repairing a robotic arm on NASA’s International Space Station, thereby becoming the highest recorded orthopedic surgery ever. And by the way Mr. Satcher is the first orthopedic surgeon in space. He was selected by NASA in 2004 for the space program and completed astronaut candidate training in 2006. The mission specialist is one of six crew members on a mission to the International Space Station.

Before joining NASA, Robert Satcher was a professor at The Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. He also held an appointment as an attending physician in orthopaedic surgery at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, specializing in Musculoskeletal Oncology; and an adjunct appointment in the Biomedical Engineering Department at Northeastern University School of Engineering. He also completed numerous medical missions for outreach care to underserved areas in Nicaraugua, Venezuala, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Gabon.

Dr. Satcher has been active in numerous community organizations including Big Brother for Youth at Risk Counseling Program, Department of Corrections, San Francisco, California; Tutor for Black Student's Union Tutorial Program, MIT; National Society of Black Engineers; Supervising Adult for Cub Scout Camp for Boys, Nashville, Tennessee; Proctor for Freshman Dormitory at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Lay Episcopal Minister (primary responsibility is visiting sick and shut in members of church) at St. Edmund’s Episcopal Church, Chicago, Illinois and at St. James Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas.

Joining Satcher on this trip is fellow mission specialist Leland Melvin, who is an expert in fiber optics and aerospace structures and materials, especially in the development of launch vehicles for space. He has won eight NASA Outstanding Performance Awards, two NASA Superior Accomplishment Awards and the key to the City of Lynchburg. An avid sports enthusiastic and college athlete, Melvin was an NCAA Division I Academic All-American and is a University of Richmond Athletic Hall of Fame Inductee. He was chosen by the Detroit Lions in the 11th round of the 1986 NFL college draft, and he also participated in the Toronto Argonauts and Dallas Cowboys football training camps.

Mr. Melvin, who joined the astronaut training in August 1998, has served the Astronaut Office Space Station Operations Branch, the Education Department at NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C, and the Robotics Branch of the Astronaut Office. As co-manager of NASA's Educator Astronaut Program, Melvin traveled across the country, educating thousands of students and teachers about space exploration and encouraging them to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Monday, November 16, 2009

On the Eve of Greatness? Sports Prodigies

Confidence is one of the "big three" characteristics, along with composure and concentration, that young athletes need when competing at sports' highest levels. But there are "no perfect predictors" for what makes a phenom. Dakota Simms seems on track for greatness and is hoping the NBA changes its age requirement so he can go directly to the NBA from high school. His jump shot is masterful; a basketball fan might consider it art. He elevates through his legs, toes pointed downward and back straight, and strokes the ball toward the hoop, following through as if he were painting a wall with his fingertips.

Dakota practices the jumper and other elements of his game every day, staying at the gym until he makes at least 200 three-point shots with an NBA regulation ball. And Dakota is only 9. Some guys in the NBA who don't have form like that, "If he stays focused like he is right now, he'll write his own ticket," said ex-Atlanta Hawk and NBA Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins after he and the youngster met at Philips Arena's practice court for a friendly three-point shooting contest from the NBA arc.

Darryl Dawkins, like many teen sports prodigies, wasn't afraid to join the professional ranks as a youngster. He was emboldened by his size and imagination. A big man -- 6-10 in 1975 when the Philadelphia 76ers drafted him out of high school -- Dawkins wasn't in awe of the stars of the era. Dawkins, by all accounts, was expected to write his own ticket as well, but he was sidetracked by the temptations that often accompany fame and fortune. After the 18-year-old signed a seven-year contract for about $1 million -- a sum for which most of today's NBA players wouldn't sweep the gym floor -- he quickly immersed himself in "soft drugs" and women. His backboard-shattering dunks would earn him the moniker "Chocolate Thunder," but he also garnered a reputation for his playful demeanor and trash talking. He spun tales of his fictional "Planet Lovetron" and anointed his dunks with colorful names like "Turbo Sexophonic Delight" and "Spine Chiller Supreme."

Darryl Dawkins was a hit with fans, but dogged by injuries, he never statistically lived up to their towering expectations during his 14 seasons. He has no regrets, he said, because he entered the NBA to lift his family out of poverty. Now as head basketball coach at Lehigh Carbon Community College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, he tells his hoopsters to do as he says, not as he did. "You can be whatever you want to be. Nurse, doctor, lawyer, teacher -- we need all those, and those are going pro, too. You can be a doctor a lot longer than you can play ball," he tells his charges today.

The fate of a teen pro athlete hinges on a host of variables, and only one is sheer skill. Also important are breathing, coordination, communication, openness to feedback, built-in motivation, an understanding of hydration and nutrition, musculoskeletal development and the ability to recover from the rigors of exercise. Work ethic is important, too. While there are hundreds of examples of teens having average or workmanlike careers, there are also monumental busts and booms. At one end of the gamut, you have football's Todd Marinovich and tennis' Anna Kournikova, young athletes whose hype overshadowed their actual accomplishments. On the other end, you have Sydney Crosby and Lebron James, guys whose ages were never evident when they took the ice and court as teens.

Hoping to follow the leads of ballers like Leron James, Dakota Simms practices up to 14 hours a week, but outside his Herculean work ethic, Dakota is a typical kid. Terence Simms, his coach/father, and Kobe Bryant are his favorite basketball players. Cheeseburgers and hamburgers are his two favorite foods, in that order, and he enjoys writing stories and playing video games when he's not on the court. But talk to him about basketball and you'll hear some things atypical of 9-year-olds. "If you miss some shots, you've got to get your head right," said Dakota. "You've got to fix it. Nobody else is going to do it for you."

It's imperative that young athletes have focus, drive and the ability to reset their minds when they're off the playing field, but often overlooked is something that should be at the root of all sports. If fun isn't the key element at this point, that's what typically leads to burnout or change of sport. Having fun certainly helped Jonathan Spector. A member of the U.S. national soccer team who plays for England's Premiership squad West Ham United, Spector said it was hard to be homesick when he was doing something he loved. He moved to England in 2003 after Manchester United offered him a contract at age 17. "It's one of the best clubs in the world, and I was pursuing things I wanted to do so it was kind of hard to feel sorry for yourself," he said.

Spector had to acclimate quickly. Without his friends and family nearby, he faced new competition, different styles of play, constant travel and, of course, the pressure of 40,000 spectators watching. He said he thrives on pressure. Rachele Fico is not easily rattled, either. A softball pitcher with a rise ball her father described as "murder," Fico began receiving letters of interest as soon as she took the mound in high school. Pitches clocked at 64 mph catch recruiters' attention, and Fico was throwing curveballs at 68 her junior year. Louisiana State University signed Fico last year, before she even tossed a pitch her senior season (she later shattered the national high school record for career perfect games).
Ralph Fico said his daughter owes her success to her unflappable bearing and to her diligence -- she has thrown about 30,000 pitches a year since she was 9.

Athletes who hone these coping attributes at an early age are better able to deal with fear and pressure at higher levels as adults. Making great athletes is good, but making great people is much better. A pro sports career is only going to be so long. You are going to be around for a much longer time as people. Ultimately, teams want the best person out of the deal.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Josh Cribbs Walks with Late Coach's Son on Senior Night

In another bad year for the Cleveland Browns, wide receiver/returner Josh Cribbs has proved to be one of the only bright spots. Recently he showed he's equally good off the field as well. The Pro Bowler traveled to Berea, Ohio for senior night to walk onto the field with the son of one of his former college coaches.

Michael Drake, a senior receiver at Stow High School, lost his father, Mike, in 2005 to lymphoma. He had assumed he'd be accompanied by his mother and sister for senior night introductions and was stunned when he saw Cribbs arrive minutes before the game. Cribbs offered him advice before his final game.

Michael's late father recruited Josh to play at Kent State and served as a father figure to the Washington, D.C. native during his time at Kent. Mike Drake was the offensive coordinator at Kent State during Cribbs's freshman and sophomore seasons. Josh Cribbs played quarterback in college and credits Drake for helping him develop the fundamentals that he still uses today. So, when the idea of returning for senior night was mentioned to Cribbs this summer, he didn't hesitate.

It says a lot about the character of Josh Cribbs. He apparently didn't feel the need to talk about it publicly and neither did the media. It seems they only talk about negative incidents with athletes. Similarly, Drake's mother is quoted as saying that Cribbs took great pains to underplay his presence at the game for fear of taking away the spotlight from Michael and the other seniors. This shows a humility that everyone, including professional football players, could stand to emulate.

I will be cheering for Josh Cribbs, if not the Cleveland Browns, from this point on.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Viola Vaughn and 10,000 Girls

Viola Vaughn’s 26-year-old daughter’s sudden death left her to care for five grandchildren. The Detroit native had worked in Africa for most of her life and considered it home, so she and her husband returned there to raise their grandchildren.

Soon after their move to rural Kaolack, Senegal, in 2000, Vaughn's husband -- jazz musician Sam Sanders -- died of black lung. Amid her grief, she found comfort in her grandchildren, ages 4 to 12, and filled her days home-schooling them. Her success soon garnered attention from the locals.

There was a little girl that her granddaughter played with and kept coming around wanting to be taught with Ms. Vaughn grandchildren. She went to see this child's mother, and her mother said she had already failed school once, that she couldn't pass because she wasn't smart enough. Well she was smart enough to come to someone who could help. Within two weeks, Vaughn had 20 girls in her house who were failing school and asking her to teach them. She learned that the regional pass rate for girls was low because it was rooted in the economic need of young girls to work at home. They begin missing classes, then failing exams, often ultimately failing or dropping out of school. So in 2001, Vaughn turned her grandchildren's bedrooms into classrooms and began supplementing girls' education.

Viola Vaughn found each girl a girl younger than she and and taught them how to teach each other. In two years, the group of girls had grown to 80 -- and they were succeeding in school. With a grant, Vaughn was able to hire teachers, and the program continued to expand despite her attempt to set a limit of 100 girls. The girls wanted to take it to 10,000. To keep their "10,000 Girls" education program going, the girls asked Vaughn to teach them to bake. They began selling cookies and juice and were able to buy books and supplies. Soon they got their older sisters, aunts and cousins -- who had already failed out of the school system -- involved in baking and selling goods. The entrepreneurial element of the program was born.

Today, in addition to a pastry shop and catering business, "10,000 Girls" runs a sewing workshop and the girls export their handmade dolls and household linens overseas. Half of the funds from these projects go back to the girls; the remainder supports the education program. More than 1,500 girls are involved in the program in six locations; about 1,000 are waiting to join. They have girls who were told they'd never get through high school who are attend universities now. They hope that if they get 10,000 girls out there, 1,000 girls will come back to Kaolack and work, which would revolutionize the region.

All these girls needed was someone to show them how valued they are. Our education system is failing not only because of a bad education system, or bad teachers but also due to bad parents. Until we, the parents, start treating teachers with respect and teachers start treating our children with respect, no amount of changes or money will fix our education problem. Education is the base of development anywhere, so maybe Ms. Vaughn could return to her hometown of Detroit and other U.S. cities, where the school system is deteriorating year after year, to educate the educators on this type of peer-support teaching structure.

It’s good to read about people being empowered, and taking that empowerment to the next level by passing on to other people. This is exactly how it should be done -- people helping each other, giving what they can. If everyone did this, helping just a little bit in their own circles, as their own time and resources allow, then no one person has to save the world alone. The answer is in the passion and commitment shown by Viola, and the enthusiasm of the children and their family members. Where is that passion, commitment and enthusiasm in the U.S.? The only passion people seem to feel is for consuming material goods and watching tv. We need to get off our butts, people, and make things happen!

Now, can we bring her home, and put her in charge of the National Education system?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hootie Is Country Music's New Artist of the Year

Last night Darius Rucker became the first Black singer to win New Artist of the Year at the Country Music Association Awards, joining the legendary Charley Pride as the only Blacks to win a major individual award. He took the stage to wild cheers from the crowd. Charley Pride won entertainer of the year in 1971 and male vocalist in 1971-72. Rucker’s first country album, "Learn to Live," sold more than 1 million copies.

Darius Rucker is best known for his role as the lead singer and rhythm guitarist of the band Hootie & the Blowfish since its formation in 1986. Along with his work in Hootie & the Blowfish. Rucker has recorded two solo albums. The first, Back to Then, was released in 2002 on Hidden Beach Recordings. Then Learn to Live followed in 2008 on Capitol Records Nashville. Its first three singles — "Don't Think I Don't Think About It", "It Won't Be Like This for Long" and "Alright" — have all reached Number One on the U.S. Hot Country Songs chart.

As the frontman, Rucker began to be called simply "Hootie" in the media and brought additional attention as the sole Black member of a rock band with otherwise White members. Musically, he was sometimes criticized or spoofed for not being "black enough". He also received death threats for singing the Hootie song "Drowning," a protest song against the flying of the Confederate flag above his native South Carolina statehouse.

In 2001, he made his solo R&B debut album, The Return of Mongo Slade, for Atlantic Records. Because of contractual changes, it was never released by the label. Hidden Beach Recordings, an independent label, acquired the masters from Atlantic and released the album as Back to Then in July 2002. The album included work from the production team of Jill Scott (A Touch of Jazz) and she made an appearance on the track "Hold On."

Darius Rucker made his debut in the famous Grand Ole Opry in July 2008. "Don't Think I Don't Think About It" reached Top 20 on the country charts in July 2008, making him the first Black singer to reach Top 20 on the country charts since Charley Pride in 1988. The single reached number one in September, making Rucker the first solo, Black artist to chart a number one country hit since Pride's "Night Games" in 1988.

Learn to Live was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on February 6, 2009, and received a platinum certification on August 7, 2009. Its lead single, "Don't Think I Don't Think About It", gave Rucker his first chart-topping country hit and was certified gold. The album's next single, "It Won't Be Like This for Long", spent three weeks at the top of the country charts in mid 2009. Its follow-up, "Alright", became Rucker's third straight number one hit, making him the first country music singer to have his or her first three singles reach number one since Wynonna Judd did in 1992. The album's fourth single, "History in the Making," was released in September. When Rucker found that "Don't Think I Don't Think About It" went to number one, he cried.

Darius Rucker is close friends with golfer Tiger Woods; they met in a bar when Woods was 18. Rucker sang at the golfer's wedding and at his father's funeral.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Alabama Town Celebrates Obama Holiday

Perry County Commissioner Albert Turner Jr. (left) and Rep. Bobby Singleton await Obama Day golf tournament.

The Perry County courthouse sign read "Closed for the Obama Holiday." The rural county recently proclaimed an official holiday celebrating the election of the nation's first Black president, Barack Obama. It's one of Alabama's poorest counties, but sparred little during five days of festivities.

County employees, as well as city workers in Marion and Uniontown, will got a paid holiday Monday as government offices close, culminating a series of events including an old-fashioned civil rights rally and march, a golf tournament, a weekend carnival and a parade Monday through Marion.

Perry County is located in the heart of the economically depressed Black Belt region named for its rich soil. The county has a population of only a little over 11,000 residents, and an unemployment rate of more than 18 percent, one of the highest in the state.

County Commissioner Brett Harrison, who cast the lone "no" vote when the commission voted 4-1 to set up the holiday, questions adding a paid day off in such a poor county. He said the county already had 14 paid holidays and it didn't seem like the right time for such an ambitious event in the middle of a recession.

The Obama holiday was proposed by Commissioner Albert Turner Jr., whose father was one of the marchers beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in the 1965 "Bloody Sunday" voting rights march in Selma. Many of the marchers were from Marion and were upset about the shooting death of Jimmie Lee Jackson during an earlier demonstration in the town. Perry County wanted to let the nation know the role the county played in protests that led to passage of the Voting Rights Act. Commissioner Turner said, "It's not that we're celebrating Obama. We're celebrating America living up to it's creed that all men are created equal."

Activities included a jamboree at Marion Military Institute, where high school students from public and private schools in three counties had a chance to meet with representatives of colleges from across the Southeast and were given instructions on how to apply for college.

The host of the golf tournament, state Senator Bobby Singleton said he hopes publicity surrounding the holiday will help lure new industry and jobs to the region.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Cowboys in Queens

You probably wouldn't expect young men from the streets of Brooklyn to escape their “wild west” environments by riding horses and hanging out with cowboys at a rugged 25-acre ranch in nearby Queens. But that is exactly what is happening at Cedar Lane Stables. The Federation of Black Cowboys, founded in 1994, has called Cedar Lane home since 1998.

A white post-and-rail fence separates the property and its three dozen horses from the commuter traffic at the intersection of Linden Boulevard and Conduit Avenue. A red, wooden sign at the stable's entrance advertises "reins & things" at Debbie's Western Boutique. And a wide wooden bridge takes you to the riding ring and stables, many of which have been converted from metal shipping containers.

Twenty year old Paris "Rabbit" Parrish has ridden with the Black cowboys since he was 8 years old. He remembers when he and his mother were driving on Linden Boulevard and first saw Jessie Lee "Captain" Wise, one of the federation's 11 founders, riding his horse. And yelled mama, look, it’s a cowboy; so they pulled over, and talked to him, and Captain told young Paris to come on down to the stable. And Rabbit has been riding ever since.

Fifteen year old D’vonte “Boney D” Jemmott’s mother has been taking him to Cedar Lane Stables since he was a toddler. Like Rabbit, Boney D lives in a neighborhood that is filled with gangs, narcotics and violence. Both are confident that would be in jail or with a gang without the guidance of the local cowboys. Keeping youngsters away from gangs, guns and drugs is a top federation priority. Federation president Stencil “Doctor D” Stokes says they they see the Bloods. They see the Crips. All they see is violence. They can come here at night without worrying about getting shot. The kids love it, Texas in Queens. This is like an oasis in the middle of the city, says cowgirl Heather Bradley, whom the children call "Ma."

The federation has mentored a child who went on to become a veterinarian and another who is a New York mounted police officer, but Doctor D doesn't have unrealistic expectations of the children, because the primary goal is to keep them safe. Education is a staple at the stables, according to Warren "Black Red" Small, who said that taking care of a horse is a lot like taking care of yourself. Youngsters aren't allowed to ride until they first learn how to groom the animals, clean their hooves, saddle and bridle them and, yes, clean their stalls.

The federation also teaches children about "the forgotten Black West" because it's important that kids know the role Blacks played in taming the Wild West. Cowboys such as Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy too often dominate popular cowboy lore, but they were not the first. The federation teaches youngsters about Bill Pickett, who invented steer wrestling, and the aggressive "Stagecoach" Mary Fields, whose nickname was derived from her reliability in delivering mail across a wild and rugged Montana frontier.

History, for all people, is a necessary part of their evolution and their growing process. The group's first female inductee, Kesha "Babygirl" Morse, said "also necessary is working with kids to find a balance for them between the macho man stuff and being a gentleman." Thousands of kids have come through the stables via various school programs and community functions since 1998. And many have come back for mentoring.

Like any nonprofit, the federation survives off donations. Major corporations have donated to the cause, and co-founder Jessie Lee Wise has tapped his own excavating business to help with upkeep and construction at the stables. But times are hard, said Eric "Little Red" Jackson, and the cowboys could sorely use a sponsor to continue their work. Several stables are in disrepair, and the federation's future museum is presently a dilapidated trailer containing photos, animal hides and memorabilia and artifacts. In Southern California there is a similar program -"The Compton Jr. Posse". Here’s to groups like the Federation of Black Cowboys and their continued success. Keep up the good work y'all....

Notable Black Cowboys
William "Bill" Pickett (1870-1932) -- Credited with inventing steer wrestling, a popular rodeo event. Legend has it that Pickett, inspired by the bulldogs used to herd the steer, rode alongside a bull, leapt off his horse, grabbed it by the horns and bit the animal on the side of the mouth, bringing it to the ground.

"Stagecoach" Mary Fields (1832-1914) – AKA Mary Fields and Black Mary. Her skill at hitching a team of horses to a stagecoach earned her the honor of being the first Black woman to deliver the U.S. mail. A poem attributed to her says she was 6-feet tall, weighed 200 pounds, smoked a "big, black cigar" and carried a pistol. Mary got her nickname at the turn of the 20th Century. She earned this nickname by working for “Wells Fargo” delivering the U. S. Mail through adverse conditions that would have discouraged the most hardened frontiersmen of her time. She never missed a day for 8 years, carrying the U. S. Mail and other important documents that helped settle the wild open territory of central west Montana. She could knock out any man with one punch. Despite Mary's hardness, she had another side of her, a kindness so strong, even today, the town of Cascade, Montana, and other surrounding communities celebrate her birthday.

Bass Reeves (1838-1910) -- First Black deputy U.S. marshal west of the Mississippi River. He patrolled the lawless Indian Territory and was hired because of his knowledge of tribal languages and his acumen for disguise. He is credited with arresting more than 3,000 outlaws.

Nat Love (1854-1921) -- Also called "Deadwood Dick," Love was born a slave in Tennessee. He made his mark as a cowboy in Dodge City, Kansas, and in his autobiography talks of fighting native Americans, roping mustangs and sharing drinks with Billy the Kid.

And of course there were the Buffalo Soldiers (9th and 10th Cavalry). The 7th Cavalry got their butts in a sling again after the Little Big Horn Massacre, fourteen years later, the day after the Wounded Knee Massacre. If it wasn't for the 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers, there would have been a second massacre of the 7th Cavalry. Read, and visit site/great military history,