An urban cowboy in Southwest Philadelphia who has used his stable to train young men for a decade may soon lose the land where he has operated.
Malik Divers, 55, has a stable and corral on a narrow street — but his landlord wants more money for the land, and Divers is searching for a new home.
“There’s no money involved in this. This is about keeping kids out of trouble,” Divers said.
Divers found a vacant garbage-strewn lot a few blocks away, and cleared it with the help of volunteers. But that land is located on a block where most property is listed as belonging to the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA). Property records show some of it was sold for $1 in the 1950s, and now is listed for more than $500,000.
Since waiting to hear back from the PRA about using the land, Divers has seen garbage piling back up on the land.
“If they just let it sit here and don’t take care of it and wait for it to sell — people are gonna come back and keep dumping and dumping,” he said.
PRA spokeswoman Jamila Davis confirmed Divers reached out informally to ask about using the land, but said they do not know for certain if PRA owns the lot in question, and won’t determine that out unless they received a formal letter of interest.
“He would have to go through the process if he actually wanted to purchase the lot,” she said. “You can’t just say, ‘Hey, I’m going to have a horse stable.'”
Davis noted that a nonprofit cause like Divers’ could be entitled to getting city-owned land for a reduced price. But the complex process could be a barrier for Divers.
“I don’t want to buy it, I just want to set up a stable,” Divers said.
Divers, who learned how to ride as a young man, is dedicated to passing those skills down to the next generation to young men in his neighborhood.
His apprentices have to care for their own horses for the privilege of riding them, he said.
Abdul Early, 17, has been riding at Divers’ stable for several years. It took months to learn just how to mount, steer, and control a horse, he said.
“After that, I fell in love with the horses. Every day I was here,” said Early, a student who works for UPS.
Chris Coger, 19, has been riding horses since he was about 6 years old. He got part of his training at Chamounix Equestrian Center in Fairmount Park.
“Having a horse is my motivation … It calms me down, its very relaxing, and it de-stresses you. These horses are my family,” Coger said. “The meaning behind being a black cowboy in Philadelphia — it’s a sign of respect, it’s a sign of trust, and knowing where you come from and being part of your own heritage.”
Coger is enrolled in an online school learning about animal care, and aspires to become an equine veterinarian and specialist, he said.
For Divers, his goal is carrying on the tradition — not just for himself and his riders, but for the locals who savor urban cowboys as part of Philly’s unique character.
“They love it,” Divers said of locals’ reactions to his riders on horseback in the city. “They say, ‘Ooh, look at the cowboy!’ You hear ‘clop clop clop,’ it’s music to your ears.”