Donations to North Philly riding club skyrocket after confusion over ‘Concrete Cowboy’ fundraiser

The Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club is still searching for a new permanent home.

Nahye Hyman, 13, has been a volunteer at Fletcher Street for three years

Nahye Hyman, 13, has been a volunteer at Fletcher Street for three years

Danya Henninger / Billy Penn
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A fundraiser for Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club has tripled in value since the Friday Netflix release of “Concrete Cowboy,” a film loosely based on the North Philly equestrian organization.

After pulling in about $40,000 over the previous nine months, the GoFundMe zoomed past its goal and as of Tuesday morning has nearly $150,000 in donations. It’s a major boost for the local nonprofit, which was being kept afloat primarily out of founder Ellis Ferrell’s own pocket.

The money will be used for care of the horses, stable building materials, and a documentary film being produced with the riding club, according to the GoFundMe description.

In a statement posted to Instagram, the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club expressed gratitude and said the donations will help them sustain operations and serve their community.

“We remain committed to our mission: healing individuals and community through urban equine experience,” the statement reads.

Located in Strawberry Mansion and a popular sanctuary for kids there, the horseback riding club is facing displacement. The city-owned greenspace it used for horse grazing and lessons is being developed into housing for seniors with lower incomes, and the club’s search for a new, permanent location remains ongoing. In June, Fletcher Street launched the online fundraiser.

Ellis Ferrell, founder of the Fletcher Street Urban Riders Club

Ellis Ferrell, founder of the Fletcher Street Urban Riders Club

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

Over various incarnations, Ferrell’s club has been featured in books, art exhibits, and documentaries around the world, but has remained a labor of love that struggled to raise money.

“I love Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club because I’m dealing with kids,” Ferrell said. “And horses and kids are my passion. Once they learn how to ride, they’re here every day.”

A few weeks ago, the club was faced with fundraising competition from an unlikely source. Ricky Staub, founder of Neighborhood Film Company, which produced “Concrete Cowboy,” co-founded a nonprofit in 2019 while the movie was shooting in North Philly. In late March, that new organization created its own GoFundMe, which has raised more than $57k toward a $2 million goal to date.

Called Philadelphia Urban Riding Academy, its website says it was created to preserve “the life, legacy, and culture of Black urban cowboys in the city of Philadelphia.”

It’s not affiliated with the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club, which was concerned over the confusion the dueling fundraisers might cause.

“Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club believes that the public will perceive that the funds raised will be for the Club,” it said in a statement released online, “and fears that this campaign will detract from its efforts to raise funds for its own permanent home and siphon potential funds from its independent initiatives.

“The Club hopes that the filmmakers clear the record for the public and give credit to the iconic Fletcher Street Riding Club.”

As Idris Elba was turning heads, plans advanced to build houses on the pasture shown in the movie

As Idris Elba was turning heads, plans advanced to build houses on the pasture shown in the movie

Dre Reed for Billy Penn

“Concrete Cowboy” is based on a book by author Greg Neri called “Ghetto Cowboy.” The decade-old young adult novel was inspired by Neri’s trip to the Fletcher Street Stables and interactions with Ferrell’s riding club.

The club’s property and surrounding area served as the movie’s primary filming location. A coming-of-age film, it stars “Stranger Things,” actor Caleb McLoughlin, Jharrel Jerome of “Moonlight” and “When They See Us,” and Hollywood star Idris Elba, who also produced it. Philly native Lee Daniels served as another producer.

“Concrete Cowboy” debuted back in September 2020 during the Toronto International Film Festival. Critical reception was mixed, but it seems to have been more warmly received by the general public. It became the top film on Netflix just days after its release and holds an 80% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.

The movie also featured some actual Philly urban riders including Fletcher Street’s own Jamil Prattis, who had a prominent scripted role.

Ferrell’s organization is not the city’s only active riding club. In Southwest Philly around two decades ago, an equestrian named Malik Divers founded the Concrete Cowboys — no relation to the film. In 2019 he raised about $20k to help secure a permanent location near Bartram’s Garden.

There’s also the Chamounix Equestrian Center in Fairmount Park, which has fielded a nationally competitive polo team, and the Northwestern Stables in Chestnut Hill.

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