Showdown at the Md. Corral


African-American cowboys and gals saddle up for rodeo finals

Spotlight Rodeo


IF CHEERING ON COWBOYS being chased by an angry bull is your kind of fun, then you won't want to miss out on next month's 21st annual Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo Finals and Rodeo for Kidz Sake in Upper Marlboro.

This rodeo is the only black touring show in the United States, visiting 11 cities across the nation, including Atlanta, San Diego and Denver, and performing for more than 120,000 spectators nationwide.

But the competition isn't just about guts and glory. Lu Vason, producer and founder of the rodeo, says, "It's a cultural event, especially for African-Americans."

Vason says the rodeo is educational, helping to "expose the myth that there weren't any black cowboys."

In fact, the rodeo is named after Bill Pickett, an African-American cowboy who invented "bull doggin'," a move in which Pickett rode alongside a steer, jumped onto its shoulders and brought it down by digging his feet into the ground. A modern-day version of the feat, steer wrestling, still gets plenty of rodeo action today.

The rodeo has come to the predominantly African-American community of Upper Marlboro, a suburb of Washington, for the past six years. However, few Maryland contestants participate in the event, Vason says.

"There aren't enough rodeos in Maryland for them to be interested or for them to get exposed," he says. "That's why we go to places where they're not very familiar with" rodeo culture, which comes from the days of the Wild West and stage coaches.

The rough and tumble showdown will feature 75 cowboys and cowgirls competing in seven events: bare back ridin', calf ropin', bull doggin', ladies steer undecoratin', barrel racin', Jr. barrel racin' and bull ridin'.

"It's all about the hand, eye and timing coordination. If all those are in place, then you win," says Carolyn E. Carter of Oklahoma, who has participated in the rodeo since 1984.

Carter will be competing in the ladies steer undecoratin' and barrel racing events. In ladies steer undecoratin', the contender rides after a steer that has a ribbon attached to its shoulders. The cowgirl must reach over while on horseback, grab the ribbon and raise it over her head to signal that she has completed the event.

Bobby Harrison of Port Arthur, Texas, has been a cowboy since age 8 and has been touring with the rodeo since 1987. Harrison will be competing in the bare back ridin', calf ropin', bull doggin' and bull ridin' events. His favorite event, however, is bull doggin'.

Participating in the competition can mean years of perfecting a technique. Harrison's strategy is to "take the [steer's] head and swing it to the left. Then you turn [the head] upside down." The fastest "dogger" to take down a steer wins.

Kids will get a dose of history at the Rodeo for Kidz Sake. The event, held the morning of the first day of the rodeo, will focus on the lives of the black cowboys and cowgirls of the past.

The rodeo will be held at The Show Place Arena and Prince George's Equestrian Center at 14900 Pennsylvania Ave. in Upper Marlboro. On Sept. 22, there will be a Rodeo for Kidz Sake at 10:30 a.m. The rodeo competition starts Sept. 23 at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Information: visit billpickett Tickets: 301-343-7577.


Travel back in time and uncover the clandestine trails of a once-untraceable movement. In March, the state of Maryland released a map guide, "The Underground Railroad: Maryland's Network to Freedom," revealing the locations of safe houses; the woods and waterways "where freedom seekers hid, walked, fought and ran away"; and other points along the passage to liberation. The pamphlet is the work of the Maryland Office of Tourism and the National Park Service's Network to Freedom program, which is an effort to join together places associated with the Underground Railroad nationwide.

Map guides are free and can be found at Maryland Welcome Centers, local tourism visitor centers or online in electronic form at visitmaryland. org. Call 800-719-5900 or order online to receive a copy by mail. Learn more about the National Park Service Network to Freedom program at / ugrr.


Lunch hour at the desk just got a little more exciting., an "all out [online] newspaper," offers a daily dose of Afrocentric news, with Web pages dedicated to weekly comics, singles listings, movie reviews, editorials and more. Dante Lee, founder and president of Diversity City Media, which is based in Columbus, Ohio, says the six-year-old multicultural Web site gets visits from people between the ages of 21 and 65. Lee says, "We offer the content, people come to the site. Then, between the content is the advertisements. But the news is a free service to the reader." Stories include the hottest in arts and entertainment, "Black Business News" and "African American Issues."

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