Dec 11, 2023 - News

Year in reflection: Portland's first Black rodeo

Three Black men in cowboy hats and Western gear stand talking between corral stalls.

Bullfighters and bull riders talk strategy ahead of the rodeo. Photo: Anthony Jordan III, courtesy of Eight Seconds

Rodeo history happened June 17 at the Portland Expo Center — Black rodeo riders bucked broncos and wrestled steers at a sold-out event offering $60,000 in cash prizes.

Why it matters: Although there is a Black rodeo circuit — typically with much less prize money — this was the first time anything similar had been put on in Portland, and it was a hit.

Catch up fast: America's frontier history includes Latino vaqueros, Indigenous cattle handlers and Black cowboys, Axios' Russell Contreras wrote in a preview of the Portland event.

A Black man wearing a white cowboy hat, tan jacket and light blue shirt stands above a deep river gorge on a sunny day.
Ivan McClellan, Portland's Black rodeo founder. Photo: Courtesy of Eight Seconds

The latest: We asked McClellan about the meaning of the event. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

🤞🏾 What were your goals when you set out to do the rodeo?

  • "I wanted to do it directly in Portland to have the biggest impact on the community here and to inspire the most people of color. I also wanted it to be indoors because as a photographer, lighting was critically important.
  • "I wanted a beautiful setup."

⛰️ What were the biggest challenges?

  • "Locking down the venue and paying for it was enormously difficult."
  • "We also had to get tons and tons and tons of dirt loaded in, which was anxiety inducing for everybody."
  • "One other difficult part was that we needed 30+ athletes to travel for a rodeo that they had never heard of, to a city that none of them had ever been to. Recruiting athletes was incredibly time consuming."

❓ You told Axios' Russ Contreras that people here were skeptical. Who and how?

  • "I met with people who said, 'You're being too ambitious' and 'you need to scale this thing back.'"
  • "I was told that I needed to give away blocks of tickets to the Black community if I wanted them to show up."
  • "I heard that from multiple different people — Black people, white people, across the board."

🎉 What was being at the rodeo like for you?

  • "The event was physically and spiritually outstanding far beyond what I even envisioned."
  • "I didn't realize that Portlanders were going to dress up and that they were going to be so elated and so encouraging and supportive of their athletes."
  • "After the event I got calls and congratulations from every city department as to how they can support and bring it back next year."

🤠 What are your bigger dreams?

  • "I want to build a stable here in Portland. I want to be training kids to ride horses and rope and ride bulls right here in the city. And to start to see a lot more diversity at local events."
  • "The success and the enthusiasm of the first event has made it like okay, this is actually possible."
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