Southwest Philly urban cowboy finds new home with Bartram’s Garden

After years of uncertainty, an urban cowboy has found a new home for his stables on the edge of Bartram’s Garden, where he can keep training the next generation of young horsemen.

“They’re good, obedient horses. They’re being taken care of the right way,” said Malik Divers on Thursday, looking fondly at his horses Shadow and Big Sonny, wandering inside a large corral beside a tiny goat outside their new stables on a serene half-acre of land isolated from the nearby urban traffic.

Divers runs a program he calls “Concrete Cowboys,” which trains young men from around the neighborhood to ride and care for horses on their own and become the next generation of black cowboys in Philadelphia.

“If I can get more kids and help them stay away from the streets, it would be a good thing,” Divers said. “That’s the whole objective, get these kids off the street.”

Divers, 57, believes in teaching the next generation about the benefits of working with horses. He learned about caring for horses growing up, avidly going to a stable near 4th and Girard to watch and care for the horses. “When I was young, I had to sit on the step, I couldn’t get off the step and I wanted something to do. Finally, I saw some older guys with horses. I followed them down to the stable, and every weekend I would go down there,” he said.

Divers said he’s been training young riders for some 15 years. In years past, he trained teens to saddle up in an aluminum-fenced lot surrounded by rowhouses, and ride out along nearby Woodland Avenue. When he came under threat of eviction from his landlord, Divers spent time clearing a vacant city-owned lot on Eastwick Avenue with the aim of moving the stables there, but couldn’t get permission to build there.

“I was gonna have to give up,” he says.

A new solution arose when staff from Bartram’s Garden, the historic house and 45-acre park in Southwest Philly, took up Divers’ cause and eventually offered to let him use a half-acre of land as a new home for the horses.

“He was facing eviction from his spot, which was in a little industrial slip on the other side of Lindbergh Boulevard,” said Justin DiBerardinis, director of programs and partnerships at Bartram’s Garden. “We were really impressed with how he took care of his horses. He does a notably good job of running a tight operation, and we were trying to figure out how to help him.”

Bartram’s found a tiny unoccupied piece of land where Divers has built stables and his horses can have access to fresh grass. In return, he’s is providing some night watchman services, as well as the benefit of having his program in the community.

“Malik and his horses are fully welcome at Bartram’s Garden,” DiBerardinis said. “When people from the neighborhood are doing that kind of work, we want to support it in a big way.”

But Divers is in need of new horsemen to train. The last group of riders gradually drifted away as they got older. One was even killed, a victim of gun violence in Philly. With fewer apprentices, Divers cannot care for as many horses. Himself a lifelong rider, he can also no longer ride a horse, due to various health issues.

“I don’t ride. I just put it on the kids and I try to tell them, it’s on y’all turn to run this, take care of it, but they don’t see that picture. So I’m going to keep on going as long as I can, teaching the kids,” he said. “I need somebody to be persistent. I want to turn it over to somebody and have them keep it going.”

To support Concrete Cowboys, visit Divers’ Gofundme page. Below, see a short film about the Concrete Cowboys. 

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