People of many backgrounds and races helped shape Arizona’s history. The Arizona Black Rodeo highlights African American contributions while also showingcasing the talents of black cowboys and cowgirls.
This year’s rodeo is Sept. 2-3 at WestWorld of Scottsdale.
In its 11th year, the Arizona Black Rodeo is the flagship event for Black Rodeo USA, which has recently expanded to putting on rodeos in Tennessee, Oklahoma, Florida, California, Mississippi and Nevada.
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The Arizona rodeo is hosted by the Arizona Informant Foundation and the Arizona Black Rodeo Association.
Founder and Director Lanette Campbell says fans of all ages come not just to see the events but because of the rodeo’s connection to African American history and culture. Some families and church and community groups attend every year.
“That’s one thing about the rodeo. They come in generations. You’ll have grandparents bringing the grandkids,” Campbell says.
What to expect at the Arizona Black Rodeo
More than 100 cowboys and cowgirls are expected from Arizona, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and California. They will try to win a combined $25,000 in prize money.
They will compete in traditional rough stock and timed events, including bull and ranch bronc riding, calf roping, steer wrestling, ladies steer undecorating (a women’s version of steer wrestling) and ladies barrel racing.
Contestants at different skill levels compete in the rodeo. Tory Johnson, a professional sponsored cowboy, has been taking part in the Arizona rodeo for several years. Newcomers also join the ranks.
“Kids start the rodeo when they’re 12 and 13, and now they’re 18 and 19. You’ve got some guys who are trying to stay fit and stay ready. They’ll come to the rodeo. You’ve got the kids that are up and coming that come to the rodeos and give the older ones a run for their money,” Campbell says.
A few children will display their skills, including a 4-year-old barrel racer.
“We want to make sure we highlight some of the young up-and-coming people in the sport,” Campbell says.
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Taking care of the cowboys and cowgirls
Competing in rodeos can be expensive. Campbell says she and her team try to help out the cowboys and cowgirls as much as they can.
“There is a cost factor in anyone wanting to get on the road and travel, especially when pulling a trailer with some horses. Some of these guys will travel and not have money with them,” she says.
“So, we make sure we take care of the contestants. We provide meals for them, and we make sure we feed their horses to the best of our abilities. People come because they know they will be treated good when they get here.”
Contestants often interact with the crowd and take photos with them after the rodeo.
“They’ll sign autographs on the way out the door. They’ll shake hands. We make sure they’re out front. I have a picture of a cowboy holding a little boy. The mother sent me the photo. She was like, ‘I can’t believe he got to meet a cowboy.’” Campbell says.
The rodeo will have offerings for children, such as a themed coloring book and a seed-planting activity. Kids also can take part in mutton bustin’ and calf scramble events.
An important component of the Arizona rodeo has always been education. The program often highlights pivotal figures in Black rodeo history, such as Bill Pickett, as well as African Americans’ contributions to the West.
More things to do at the Arizona Black Rodeo
The festivities will start with “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the Black national anthem, as well as “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
There will be appearances by Chandler City Councilman OD Harris, civil rights activist and National Newspaper Publishers Association President and CEO Benjamin Chavis and Miss Tucson 2021 Abby Charles.
Oklahoma-based artist J. Friday will perform his brand of hip hop, R&B and country music as part of the festivities.
Rodeo clown Avery Ford, known by the stage name Spanky, will also entertain the crowd with his antics.
Members of Buffalo Soldiers organizations will be honored during the event. The Buffalo Soldiers were a group of African Americans who served in the military in the West after the Civil War. Groups in Arizona and other states help to educate and honor their work.
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African American organizations and community groups also take part in the rodeo. Campbell says community involvement has always been important for the event.
Robinson Ranch, an equine learning and horse therapy center in south Phoenix, will be there. Shades of Distinction line dancers from Travis L. Williams American Legion Post 65 will return to perform at the rodeo.
How the Arizona Black Rodeo helps kids
The host organizations offer scholarships and educational activities for young people. They recently hosted a Girl Scout troop that came to a local ranch and earned horsemanship badges
Last year, over $10,000 in scholarships was given to young people across the country to pay for rodeo fees and travel costs.
On Sept. 2, school groups and home-schooled children will take part in the Kidz Rodeo Round Up.
It will have calf roping, ladies barrel racing and other events. Kids will get to meet cowboys, horses and a clown and learn about horse safety and rodeo events.
Campbell says the goal is to get children interested in rodeo from a young age.
“We want to instill appreciation for the sport itself as a lifestyle. I think it draws an interest with future competitors. Once kids come and see something and it sparks their interest, they will follow their own lead on it,” Campbell says.
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Arizona Black Rodeo
When: Friday and Saturday, Sept. 2-3. Gates open 5:30 pm; events begin at 7.
Where: Westworld of Scottsdale, 16601 N. Pima Road.
Admission: $22 plus fees for general admission bleacher seating, $40 plus fees for VIP seating, free for age 3 and younger with paid adult admission. Parking is $10 per vehicle; cash only.
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