The Arizona Black Rodeo is about more than entertainment. The event gives contestants a place to compete and spread awareness about African American contributions to Southwestern heritage.
“African Americans played a huge part in the history and culture here,” said Lanette Campbell, the rodeo’s founder and director.
“If we don’t preserve that heritage and that information, it’s going to get lost.”
Now in its 10th year, the Arizona Black Rodeo is at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, May 15, at WestWorld of Scottsdale.
Before the Arizona Black Rodeo was established, the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo visited Arizona until it cut back on its events. It was then the local rodeo was founded. It’s co-sanctioned with the Bill Pickett circuit, so qualifying times can be used in the traveling rodeo.
During the rodeo, cowboys compete in bull riding, steer wrestling and calf roping while cowgirls engage in barrel racing.
Riders can also participate in the Pony Express relay races, in which they race around barrels on horseback, passing off batons to their teammates.
The Arizona rodeo draws between 50 and 110 contestants annually. In May, Campbell expects at least 90 contestants, vying for more than $21,000 in prize money.
Like previous years, the rodeo will have contestants from around the country, including Arizona, California, Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
The Compton Cowboys, a group dedicated to promoting equestrian and farming heritage in the inner-city, will take part in this year’s rodeo.
The Arizona rodeo attracts cowboys and cowgirls at different levels and ages.
“When you have a love for it and a passion for it, it is something you want to continue to do,” Campbell said.
Although many contestants are skilled in their events, going professional can be challenging because of the expenses like entry and travel fees and costs associated with horses.
Campbell said many of the contestants have regular jobs and rodeo in their spare time. After taking time off during COVID, many of the contestants are eager to get back to doing rodeos.
“Most of these guys haven’t rodeoed in a while, so they are biting at the bit to get here,” Campbell said.
The Arizona rodeo begins with the Black National Anthem; grand entry festivities and a salute to the Buffalo Soldiers, a group of African American soldiers that served in the West following the Civil War. Local Buffalo Soldiers re-enactment groups will arrive on motorcycles and horseback.
Grand marshal duties will be shared by Chandler Councilman OD Harris and civil rights activist and National Newspaper Publishers Association President and CEO Benjamin Chavis.
This year, medical frontline workers will be honored, and the reigning Miss Tucson, Abby Charles, will be highlighted.
During the rodeo, line dancers from a local American Legion chapter in South Phoenix will perform.
Growing up, Campbell spent the summers in Safford, where she helped feed and clean up after her family’s horses, cows and chickens. Like Campbell, many attendees have a connection to farm animals and agriculture. Heading to rodeos helps them reminisce.
“You find a lot of people have come from that background,” Campbell said. “They grew up on a farm and then they moved to the city, and they didn’t stick close to their roots. Then, you see a rodeo and remember it, and it stimulates something in you.”
Getting young people involved is important to organizers like Campbell. They need to keep the tradition alive and develop homegrown talent. She noticed it’s worked. The Arizona Black Rodeo Kids Round Up gives children the chance to get close to and ask questions about horses and learn more about rodeo events.
The association gives back to high school kids who participate in rodeos or are interested in animal-related careers through scholarships. They also have scholarships to help young kids to pay for rodeo fees.
The day before the main rodeo, the association will put on a children’s rodeo.
“It’s just a great family event,” she said.