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Bill Pickett Rodeo celebrates legacy of the black west

CITY OF INDUSTRY — A celebration of the legacy of the old black west came to the Industry Hills Expo Center July 18 and 19 as the 31st annual edition of the Bill Pickett Rodeo took place.

Thousands of rodeo fans of all ages gathered to see what is billed as “the greatest show on dirt,” which began with special celebrity guest riders such as Emmy-nominated actor Obba Babatundé, taking full gallop trips around the arena.

Babatundé, an avid horseman, rider and trainer, became involved in the rodeo 20 years ago.

“I support this rodeo because it represents African-American people as being positive, motivated, strong, family-oriented, and God-fearing,” Babatundé said.

“Your do is not your who, meaning what you do does not define who you are, it only defines what you do. I believe who you are is represented by how you affect positive change,” Babatundé added.


Judging by the crowd’s reaction, the rodeo events that were the most popular were calf roping and bull riding.

In the calf-roping competition, Zayline King won the event July 18 , and Drew Madden won the next day.

The bull riding competition was won by Anthony Monts July 18, and Walter Jackson July 19.

Other events included bull dogging, steer undecorating, barrel racing and bareback riding.

Former food vendor and longtime supporter of the rodeo Cashmier Smith has witnessed the rodeo for many years.

“This is a wonderful event because it is unusual for African Americans to have a rodeo,” Smith said.

“The rodeo is empowering for African-American children because it enables them to grasp the history of black cowboys and realize that they actually existed,” Smith said.

This year’s rodeo also paid tribute to Lu Vason, who died in May from complications of heart disease at the age of 76.

Vason was a marketing consultant, a media impresario and a producer who promoted many musical artists and concert tours, but he maintained a strong affection for the rodeo.

“Concerts only have financial rewards – the rodeo is educational,” Vason once said. “I’m trying to promote the culture of the black west.”

Vason was the person who named the rodeo after Bill Pickett.

Born in 1870, Pickett created “bulldogging,” a daring move where he rode alongside a steer, jumped onto its shoulders and brought the steer down by digging his feet into the ground. The modern-day version of the move is called steer wrestling and remains one of the most intriguing exhibitions in the rodeo.