Thousands braved the Hayward heat earlier this month to catch an annual performance by the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, the nation’s lone African-American rodeo which has traveled to more than 33 U.S. cities and draws over 130,000 attendees annually.
In its 33rd year, the renowned rodeo showcased the talents of four generations of African-American cowboys and cowgirls.
Bill Pickett, for whom the rodeo is named, was a mainstay in early Western Ranching lore and is credited with creating bulldogging, an event where a participant rides his horse alongside a steer running at about 35 miles an hour, comes out of his saddle onto the back of the steer and attempts to wrestle the steer to a full stop and flip the steer with its legs off the ground.
When the Negro Cowboys Rodeo Association, which was formed in 1947 to combat the Jim Crow practices that would not allow the participation of Black contestants during the main rodeo dissolved, a few African American cowboys continued to pursue their dreams with the newly formed PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association).
In 1984, Lucious “Lu” Augustus Vason established the BPIR after attending a major rodeo and noticing it lacked African American cowboys and cowgirls. He sought to correct this omission of historical fact and created a rodeo that would educate the world about the significance of African American western heritage.
From bulldogging to bare-back to bull-riding to ladie’s barrel racing, the rodeo is jam-packed with action for all.
With the passing of Vason, who is survived by his wife Valeria, the rodeo now has the distinction of being the only woman owned rodeo run by females, including the general manager, arena manager and supervisor.
This year’s rodeo featured a few special appearances from local leaders, including Kory Judd, Richmond Refinery’s General Manager, who presented the Chevron flag and demonstrated his horsemanship skills.
The Chevron Richmond Refinery, State Farm, Wells Fargo Bank, Safeway and other companies sponsored the rodeo in part to support the Bill Pickett Memorial Scholarship Fund, a nonprofit providing scholarships to African American high school and college students who are pursuing careers in rodeo or animal sciences.