Wave Staff Report
LOS ANGELES — It’s been nearly 40 years since Lu Vason, a producer, music promoter and marketing consultant, launched the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo.
Vason was attending Frontier Days in Cheyenne, Wyoming, billed as the world’s largest outdoor rodeo, in 1977 when he wondered why there were no Blacks competing in the any of the events.
Seven years later, he started a rodeo tour for Black cowboys named after Bill Pickett, a man born in the 19th century of Black, Cherokee Indian and white ancestry, who invented bull dogging, the act of bringing a steer down by dragging it down by the horns. Pickett did it by biting the steer’s lower lip.
The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo makes its annual Southern California stop July 15 and 16 at the Industry Hills Expo Center. Shows are at 7 p.m. July 15 and 3:30 p.m. July 16.
Black cowboys and cowgirls will compete in 10 different events, including bareback riding, bull dogging, calf roping, barrel racing and bull riding.
The rodeo, which has appeared in 32 different cities over the years, is on the California leg of its annual schedule, after staging two sold-out shows last weekend in Oakland. Other tour stops this year include Atlanta and Fort Worth next month and Washington, D.C., in September.
Vason, who died in 2015, started the rodeo to promote the legacy of Black cowboys and cowgirls.
His widow, Valeria Howard-Cunningham, is the current president and chief executive officer of the rodeo. She says her role is to continue promoting that legacy.
“We have an obligation to continue to educate society about the role of the Black cowboy in the development of the west,” Howard-Cunningham said. “The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo shares their stories because no one else gave them credit. We are creating history and perpetuating history as we go.
“The whitewashing of the Black cowboy is just like anything else in life,” she added. “The rodeo is no different than anything else we’ve experienced in this country.
“We are about creating our own history instead of waiting for someone to do something for us. We can’t do anything about the past, but we have control and an obligation to change the future.”
While the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo is about competition, culture, tradition and entertainment, it also supports education and awareness for youth through the Bill Pickett Memorial Scholarship Fund, a nonprofit whose mission is to provide scholarships to deserving students nationwide and provide education opportunities.