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Young Voices is a series of interviews conducted by Occidental College students, assisted by the Keck Grant, for Professor Jan Lin's Urban Sociology course. Each interview highlights an individual who has made an impact in their communities. Today we hear from Chrissy Wiggs from the Compton Jr. Posse, interviewed by Randall Hook.
I'm here with Chrissy Wiggs of the Compton Jr. Posse, a non-profit organization based in the agricultural community of Richland Farms that uses horses to keep at-risk youth off the streets.
Can you please tell me a little about yourself and what you do here?
My name is Chrissy Wiggs, and I'm a trainer and administrative assistant here at the Jr. Posse Ranch. I help teach the kids how to ride, and I help out Mayisha (Executive Director) in the office and all kinds of other stuff as well. I basically help her with whatever she needs when I'm here.
Can you please describe the particular identity or reputation of the organization?
Here at the Jr. Posse we keep kids on horses and out of gangs. This is a targeted area for gangs, and a lot of youth are at-risk here. We use horses as a distraction to keep them away from these things; we pride ourselves on keeping the kids in the community safe.
The program helps kids from other communities as well?
Yes. We are open to any child that wants to participate in the program. Parents bring their kids here to keep them out of trouble, or to give them something extracurricular to do. Sometimes we even get kids from good neighborhoods -- some parents bring their kids here simply because of interest in the horses and the program. There's a bunch of different kids here, and they're all here for different reasons.
How many kids are part of the program?
We have a solid group of about 10-12 kids who come consistently, but in total there are around twenty kids who come.
Who are some people whom have inspired your work?
My first influence has to be my mother, because she pushes me to broaden my boundaries in the workplace. My next influence is Mayisha, because she is so concerned about how children grow up and develop -- she encourages us to be versatile young people and wants us to be able to go out and be productive in the real world.
How did you initially enter this role? And, how did your role develop over the years?
Well, first, I started off as a youth here. I used to be shy and very aggressive. I used to come to learn to ride horses and had tons of fun as a rider. When I got busy with school I still wanted to be around the horses, so I would come volunteer whenever I could. I started coming so much that I might as well work here! So I started taking on a role as a leader and an instructor, which became my job and has kept me actively involved in the organization.
What is it like for you to see everything come full-circle like that?
It's funny because now I look at the kids and think to myself, wow that used to be me. And now I feel old because the newer kids sometimes call me "Ms. Chrissy"! (Laughing) It's also great just seeing how I myself have developed because of the program. Now I want to give back and do my part. Hopefully one day these kids will come back when they grow up and do the same. My work here really has helped me see how important it is to work with kids. I want to pass that knowledge onto them, and hopefully they'll keep the cycle going.
Speaking of kids, to what degree is social media important to your outreach? A lot of these things -- Facebook, Twitter, etc. -- are relatively new and are heavily used by younger generations.
Yes, social media is pretty important to our outreach. As you see, our program is located in Compton, which is an urban community, and a lot of people would never know this program -- or even horses at all for that matter -- was here, even though this particular community [Richland Farms] is zoned for farm animals. Now, we use social media to get the word out there, let people know that we are here.
Is that how you reach out to the kids?
We don't solicit any kids. They usually come because they either heard about the program through word of mouth, heard about it on the news or internet, or other ways. When I was a kid in the program, I would tell my friends about all the exciting things I was doing with the horses, and they would run and tell their parents and try to come join too! That's how most of the kids come. Also, sometimes people will see us out at events like parades or competitions, and ask how they could be a part of the organization or ask if they can bring their kids.
And how do you handle that? Can any kid come and participate, or do they have to meet a certain criteria in order to participate in the program?
The only requirement is that [the kids] have to be between the ages of 5-18. Any younger than five is a safety hazard when dealing with these large horses, and older than eighteen is an adult. We basically target the typical "youth" age range.
Do you collaborate with any other people or organizations?
Our two most noteworthy collaborations are first with Will Simpson, who is the 2008 USA Olympic gold medalist [in equestrian jumping]. He comes and helps out with the kids when he gets a chance, teaching lessons or just talking to them or cooking for them on special occasions, which actually works out well because, as it turns out, he's also a champion BBQ cook! The kids love that.
Second is Glynn Turman, who is a film actor as well as a writer, director, and producer. He's also a cowboy! He runs an annual week-long horseback summer camp called Camp Giddy-Up, to where we send a few of our kids every summer on sponsorships. There, they do traditional camp stuff, while also competing in various horseback competitions that culminates in a mini-rodeo on the last day where the parents come out and watch. It's really fun! The kids have a blast every year. We work with a few others as well, but those are the main two who do the most work with us.
So, to what extent does the Jr. Posse represent the local culture here at Richland Farms?
It's a very ethnic and multicultural community here, and many of them ride horses. It's sort of an old-Western-like town, a very unique place. Originally we were called the Richland Farms Jr. Posse, but everyone else from the outside -- media, etc. -- would call us the Compton Jr. Posse, so it eventually stuck. It works out well though, because now people know where we are, and what we are doing is that much more significant. Hardly anyone outside of Compton knows the Richland Farms community. But Compton resonates with people right from the jump. Plus, it sounds a bit cooler (laughs). We feel that we represent the city of Compton in a positive light, and we're showing people that good things do come out of urban environments.
Do you find that people are surprised or taken back when they see a horseback team of urban youth from Compton, which, truthfully speaking, is a place notorious for bad things?
Oh, all the time! You can't imagine the looks on people's faces when they see us! It's like they cannot believe it. Honestly, I would be shocked too if I were them -- before I became part of the program, I never thought I would see black people on horses. People are always amazed when I tell them I deal with horses. It's such an amazingly rare experience for our people and community, which I think is why people are so interested with it.
Can you talk a little about what you feel is the sociological impact on the community? In other words, how does the program contribute to the community?
Well, first and foremost I think we do a great job of contributing to the community by helping keep the kids off the streets. This area here is so rampant with gang violence, and the gangs target the kids. If we keep the kids out of their sight and paths, they won't be around here harming our youth and messing up the neighborhood. So, for that, we contribute a great deal to the general welfare of the community. The parents and residents love what we're doing here, and they fully support us.
From your perspective, do you think the program has been directly helping with the gang problem?
Absolutely. I've noticed that crime and violence has decreased drastically since I have been coming here. We used to hear gunshots and see police cars and helicopters all the time here. As of late, I honestly can't remember the last time I've seen any of that. It's been increasingly peaceful I would say.
What does the future of the Compton Jr. Posse look like, both in the short-term and long-term?
In the relatively short term, we just want the kids to keep competing and hopefully get them to the Olympics soon. In the long-term, we want to develop a Jr. Posse program in other major urban communities throughout the nation, and hopefully eventually throughout the world. Right now, I believe Mayisha is in talks with people in Oakland, CA to make the first new Jr. Posse branch there. Eventually, Mayisha also wants to create a charter school that will serve to educate underprivileged youth and will have an equestrian program there as well.
It's exciting to see that this program is developing into something much more than it was when we started. We now feel that it has the potential to become something far beyond what any of us could have imagined. The program started with a couple horses and just Mayisha's kids. And now, we're at over twenty horses, helping an entire community, and have the first inner-city equestrian team competing throughout the state! I don't know what will happen. Only time will tell. But, we'll keep doing what we're doing and hope for the best.
Compton Jr. Posse Ranch
457 W. Caldwell Street
Compton, C.A., 90220
For more on the Compton Jr. Posse:
An interview with Founder and Director Mayisha Akbar
An interactive documentary on Richland Farms (in the heart of Compton)
An interview with Andrew Johnson, a horseshoer that also works with the Compton Jr. Posse