PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) -- Erin Brown has spent decades preserving the culture of the urban Black cowboy, sharing her love of equestrian experiences with her community.
The executive director of the Philadelphia Urban Riding Academy says she is a product of the historic Fletcher Street Stables in Strawberry Mansion.
"Fletcher Street is one of the first homes for the urban Black cowboy and one of the last still standing," said Brown.
PURA says the urban Black cowboy has been a part of Philadelphia's neighborhoods for more than 100 years. Its mission is preserve that unique history and culture and to create equine-related recreational and educational activities.
Brown says she became executive director after her friend, Eric Miller, who started the organization, lost his life to city gun violence.
"His dream was to keep this legacy of the urban Black cowboy," said Brown.
"I remember getting the phone call. I just was in shock, and I cried for maybe two weeks straight. I just didn't understand. He was such a nice guy and great person, always giving and caring. I just didn't understand how someone could do that to him."
Miller’s death came just a few weeks before his dream was realized and filming for "Concrete Cowboy," featuring Idris Elba, began in Philadelphia. The movie is based on legacy of Black urban riders in the city.
Brown stepped in where her dear friend left off. She picked up a stunt double and extra role in the movie.
"I knew the ultimate goal for Philadelphia Urban Riding Academy -- to bring back what Fletcher Street was for me growing up," she said.
"Before, it was once a safe haven and a place where the community can learn, grow and come around and ride horses. I didn’t have money, my mom didn’t have money."
She says it was the urban cowboys who invested time and resources into her training. The talent she developed has placed her in national competitions.
But Brown says gentrification and vanishing patches of open land have hampered the mission of the urban riders. Her current project is to establish a permanent home in the city for the horses and for the community.
She has already accomplished one major step, securing a space in West Philadelphia.
"One day, Mayor Kenney’s office responded and said they reached out to Parks and Rec, and they are on board with our mission."
It’s been an uphill battle ever since, she explained.
"It’s not easy. We recently met with architects. We’re ready to turn this place into a barn."
Brown says they’ve also secured some major partnerships in the past year.
"We have landed almost every major equine dealer in the horse industry as our sponsor."
The journey is only beginning. It’s going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to turn the barn into stables for the horses and a community center.
"I think the most difficult task is probably raising the money, but I know it can be done," she said.
She says financial support is essential.
"Not only will it benefit our horses, but it’s going to benefit the children of Philadelphia. Our kids need recreation. Not all kids want to play basketball. Not all kids want to play football. Some kids want to ride horses."
She says she hopes the upcoming Netflix movie will help spread awareness about PURA's mission and goals.
Though her friend and PURA visionary Eric Miller won't be here to see the film premiere, she believes he would approve.
"They wanted to portray Fletcher Street at its best and make Eric proud. After watching, I think he is in heaven smiling down."