On horses and off the streets: The Compton Jr. Posse

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The Trancas Riders and Ropers work closely with the Compton Junior Posse, which offers equestrian activities to inner-city youth. Attending its annual dinner last year were, from left: Antoine Hosley, TR&R's Rod Bergen, Compton Jr. Posse founder and CEO Mayisha Akbar, Kenny Atkins, Susan Atkins, Kevin Atkins, Tre Hosley and Roderick Potts. Photo by Amy Williams / TMT

The Compton Jr. Posse, a non-profit recreational organization for inner-city children, is celebrating its 20th year with a special fundraiser in Malibu on May 10-a Casino Night bash hosted by the Westside Equestrian Community.

With more than 150,000 gang members who commit 51 percent of the homicides in Los Angeles County annually, city leaders and officials have looked for creative methods to steer youth away from gang life and toward a future of possibility.

One of these efforts is the Compton Jr. Posse, an organization established by an equestrian-loving resident of the city with the worst reputation for gang violence in the county – Compton.

Mayisha Akbar, who grew up in the area, loved to ride horses and thought that encouraging local children to take up the sport would offer a responsible and disciplined alternative to joining the ranks of gang bangers.

“I loved riding when I was little and found it very empowering for my children as a single mother,” Akbar said. “What better way to teach kids discipline and self-esteem? Taking care of horses takes a lot of time and effort.”

Akbar’s program works with approximately100 Compton-area children per year.

“But you can’t ride if you’re in a gang,” she said. “And you have to keep your grades up.”

The youth are responsible for grooming their horses, keeping the stalls clean and maintaining their tacks. They also have to be “bilingual,” Akbar said, who graduated from Loyola Marymount with a bachelor’s degree in sociology/education. “They must speak proper English and not street lingo.”

The horse program takes place right in the center of the urban landscape.

“It’s a real dichotomy, isn’t it?” Akbar said. “But there’s an area in Compton, called Richland Farms, where you can keep horses in the back yard. Ours is a very multi-ethnic area, and everyone gets along like a big family. They grow their own vegetables and it’s Mother Nature and God.”

Accordingly, Akbar has steered thousands of youth through her corrals, with practical life application learned through riding lessons and caring of the horses.

“It’s a self-development program, sure. Horses are a real motivational tool,” Akbar said. “Our boys learn a whole new way to present themselves. Working with horses teaches you to speak in a low voice, to use non-threatening body language, to use your instinct.”

Some children see a career opportunity. Kysha Brooks is 12 years old and has been riding with the posse for about seven months.

“I think this is a real good program,” Brooks said, who particularly likes dressage. “It keeps us off the streets. My brother comes, too. I want to teach riding someday.”

Although she’s only been riding less than a year, Brooks says she is not afraid. “One of my friends got bucked off, but you have to just get up and get back on again.”

Eight-year old Khalia Akbar said she has been riding since she was two, when she would ride behind her grandmother, Mayisha.

“I’m in a jumping class now,” Khalia said. “I love horses and how they listen to you. I’m doing a jumping show in Malibu this weekend.”

Akbar has trucked her charges, with their mounts, to shows in San Diego and camping trips at Morro Bay, where the children learn that “there are more options than gang life,” she said.

“We are in constant competition with the gangs,” Akbar explained. “They’re under huge pressure. Some we win, some we don’t. My own son was shot several years ago [he’s fine now].”

The organization has been primarily self-financed, Akbar said. During the years, she has tried raising money through swap meets and bake sales, and relied on private grants and in-kind donations, “But, finally, it wasn’t enough to sustain us,” she said.

“I was beginning to wind down and retire, but people in the Westside Equestrian Community asked me what it would take to keep the program open,” Akbar continued. “I figured the cost to run it for a year is about $250,000. They offered to throw a fundraiser for me.”

Mia Boudreau runs Malibu Valley Farms, where the fundraiser on May 10 will take place, and has been involved with the Compton Jr. Posse for about 12 years.

“This will be a major party,” Boudreau said, ticking off a list of activities and prizes: casino tables; bands; a palm reader; great food; a Semler wine tasting; a silent and live auction with gifts such as a trips to Bora Bora and Costa Rica; and tickets to the American Music Awards. “We’re even auctioning a puppy.”

Boudreau said she is hoping to see this turn into a major funding event for the Compton Jr. Posse.

“Mayisha is such a phenomenon,” Boudreau said. “She’s exposing these kids to another part of the world and they are so grateful.”

More information about the Casino Night Fundraiser and sponsorship opportunities can be found online at www.jrposse.com or by calling 818. 425.5338.