Election 2020

Riding their horses through Philly on Election Day, urban cowboys of Fletcher Street visit ‘Rumors of War’

“There had been people telling me my vote didn’t count,” said the 81-year-old club president. “I found out that’s not true.”

13-year-old Nahye Hyman raises a fist on his horse Sally during a GOTV ride down 52nd Street

13-year-old Nahye Hyman raises a fist on his horse Sally during a GOTV ride down 52nd Street

Layla A. Jones / Billy Penn
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Running into a pair of horses tethered to a fence at Malcolm X Park helped lighten Stephanie Scott’s load. The West Philly resident was feeling particularly burdened after casting a ballot on Tuesday.

“You hear all of these things,” said Scott, 46. “We were just talking about all the nonsense that was going on with the election — on top of your issues that you have as a person.”

She called the equine encounter “my gift” that she was given for coming out to vote.

The horses were from the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club, whose members rode out from their Strawberry Mansion stables for a last-minute get out the vote push. They came to West Philadelphia purposely so the club founder and president, 81-year-old Ellis “El Dog” Ferrell, could see famed Black artist Kehinde Wiley’s “Rumors of War” sculpture.

Wiley’s work, temporarily installed at 52nd and Locust, depicts a Black man valiantly sitting astride a horse.

Son Darrin Ferrell, 55 said he connected with the sculpture instantly. “When I saw the statue and how it was made, I can really, really, really, really relate,” he said.

As four Fletcher Street riders trotted up to the artwork, the elder Ferrell had other priorities.

“I’m out here to help try to get people to vote,” Ferrell shouted to the small crowd that’d gathered around the live horses next to the bronze one. “I was up at six o’clock this morning! I was the first one to vote, number one!”

He and his son were first and second in line when they showed up at 6:15 a.m. to their polling place in North Philly’s Francisville section, they said. By the time the location opened 45 minutes later, there was a line around the block. For the elder Ferrell, Barack Obama’s 2008 election was the first time he’d ever cast a ballot, at age 69.

“There had been people telling me all before [that] my vote didn’t count,” Ferrell said. “I said ‘To hell with it.’ Now that I found out that’s not true. My vote does count. Your vote counts.”

Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club President and Founder Ellis Ferrell, 81, visited artist Kehinde Wiley's Rumors of War sculpture at 52nd and Locust streets

Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club President and Founder Ellis Ferrell, 81, visited artist Kehinde Wiley's Rumors of War sculpture at 52nd and Locust streets

Layla A. Jones / Billy Penn

His club has staged several GOTV events. Last year the group hosted a registration drive. They took horse-drawn buggies out in mid-October to remind neighbors in Strawberry Mansion to cast a ballot, and on Nov. 1, riders covered parts of North and West Philly urging people to vote.

Ferrell is invested in voter engagement among Black communities, he said, because he wants the world to be better for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren than it was for him as a Black man.

“I had to struggle,” Ferrell said. “I worked every day, almost around the clock in order to survive… And I couldn’t do things that I wanted to do.

“But this is my passion,” Ferrell said, of the horses.

Fletcher Street is currently raising money to ensure the club’s future. A GoFundMe has raised $7,000 of the hopeful $100k goal.

Like Ferrell and his son, residents all over West Philadelphia were met with longer than usual lines Tuesday morning. Lifelong Mill Creek resident Ellinzia Young-Leigh, 50, votes in every election and said she’d never seen a line like the one she stood in at 7 a.m. on Tuesday. “I’m so proud of everybody today,” Young-Leigh said.

The 60th Ward, where the Fletcher Street riders earned honks from cars and raised fists from pedestrians, has had decent voting turnout historically. The ward saw 27% of its registered voters cast a ballot in the 2019 primary election and about 400 of every 1k voters requested a mail-in ballot this year.

Said Ferrell, “We need your vote. Our lives are in your vote.”

Urban riders from North Philly's Fletcher Street Stables held a last-minute GOTV ride in West Philly on Tuesday

Urban riders from North Philly's Fletcher Street Stables held a last-minute GOTV ride in West Philly on Tuesday

Layla A. Jones / Billy Penn

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