Red Wing Photoshoot at Fletcher Street Stables – Jamil Prattis, Stephfon Tolbert, Michael Upshur, Erin Brown, Stephfon Tolbert. (Photographer: Leo Aguirre)
I came across the Facebook Page on The Philadelphia Urban Riding Academy located in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood of North Philly. It is steeped in history of the urban black cowboys living in the neighborhoods of the City of Philadelphia for more then a century. The movie Concrete Cowboy, starring Idris Elba, is based around this story of the urban black cowboy’s in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Below read the interview with Erin Brown, the women who is the “Concrete Cowgirl”, and wears “all of the hats” currently at The Philadelphia Urban Riding Academy.
*Can you tell everyone about The Philadelphia Urban Riding Academy? When did it start? Who started it?
The initial vision for Philadelphia Urban Riding Academy (PURA) first started in 2017 by the late, Eric Miller, who worked super closely with the filmmakers for the Concrete Cowboy film. Like so many of us, Eric witnessed the loss of backyard stables due to redevelopment. He was also aware of how important the culture was for the urban black cowboy in Philadelphia, and the effects it had on the city’s youth and community.
*Erin, tell us about your background? How long you have been riding? How you got involved with Philadelphia Urban Riding Academy? What is your role at the academy?
I started riding on Fletcher Street Stables in 1990 under the now defunct Strawberry Mansion Equestrian Center (SMEC), under the guidance of Wayne Harris, Al Lynch and Sharon Turner. As my show career as a hunter advanced, I share leased a horse at Monastery Stables, which also was closer to my home and much easier for me to get formal riding lessons. As a kid I was juggling between SMEC and Monastery. Through High School, I was riding and competing from Fletcher Street, to then managing one of the barns after graduation for several years. Actually two terms! haha I was asked to come back and run one of the barns on Fletcher Street, and Eric had a few horses in my barn. I started using my truck and trailer to pick up hay, grain, horses, etc. for him, to then exercising and training rides on his horses to being really good friends, so I got involved with PURA in it’s earlier phases but I was just supposed to be a barn manager, and do what I do best with horses. It wasn’t until he was killed that I took the role of the Executive Director. I currently wear all of the hats! With Eric’s sudden and untimely death, and building an organization from just a business license and nonprofit status is pretty tough. I learned a lot over the years from SMEC, managing different barns, along with working at the Work to Ride as a lead riding instructor and running Work to Ride program for the new participants – when it came to PURA, I just put everything that I’ve learned that worked together.
*Give us some insight on Fletcher Street Stables. How long has it been around? It’s history? What does it mean to the community?
Wowzers! Fletcher Street Stables is one of the first stables for the urban black cowboy and one of the last stables still standing. Fletcher Street has been around way before most of us were even thought of. Once upon a time, before modern vehicles took over – Produce, mail, laundry, Ice, etc. was delivered by horse and wagon, from Fletcher Street. Once modern vehicles came into play, horses were still kept for recreational purposes. Over the years, Fletcher Street has turned into a melting pot – Riders from all over the city who’ve lost their barns due to redevelopment, ended up on Fletcher Street. If I go to Fletcher Street right now, there may be only five people who are original Fletcher Street natives. I remember when each individual came that wasn’t already there. Fletcher Street, along with other backyard stables are very important to our community. It gives children an outlet, different recreation.
*The movie Concrete Cowboy starring Idris Elba is a story based around Fletcher Street Stables. Were you involved with the making of the movie at all? How long did they film in Philly?
The movie was filmed on Fletcher Street. Being behind the scenes and knowing the true story, I know that the movie represents the urban black cowboy in Philadelphia and not specific to just one place. The father/son relationship and mentorship/ guidance generally. Eric was killed a month before filming, the filmmakers were lost because not only did they have a super close friendship with Eric, he was also their “go to”. They then turned to me, although, there’s only one “Eric Miller” ever, I did the best I could. I then developed a super close relationship with the filmmakers, they’re family. I was a consultant, an extra and a stunt double for the film. I want to say filming lasted twenty five days or so. It was really fast but long at the same time.
*I hear some of the real-life Fletcher Street riders made an appearance in the movie. Do you feel they captured the history of Fletcher Street Stables and the urban black cowboys?
It was important to Eric, that the entire Fletcher Street community was involved with the film. He wanted everyone involved – so that’s what got done! They did an amazing job on the film, the story couldn’t have been captured any other or better way. Make sure you stay tuned for the next chapter – “The Concrete Cowgirl” haha
*The cowboys have been taking abandoned warehouses, parking lots, and rowhomes to stable their horses forever. Do you feel like Fletcher Street Stables is being squeezed in by the gentrification of Philadelphia?
Fletcher Street has been a mothership and saving grace to all of the stables effected by gentrification in the past to date. Unfortunately, the same will be happening to Fletcher Street. We are prepared – Philadelphia Urban Riding Academy is here to save the day!!
*And the most import question…. did you get to meet Idris Elba????
Ha Ha… Yes! I was with him the entire time filming. He and the rest of the cast were absolutely amazing, and as down to earth and friendly as ever.
Here is the contact for Erin and The Philadelphia Urban Riding Academy. Also the GoFundMe page link to donate:
Contact: [email protected]