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MARCH/APRIL 2012

Black Cowboy: An Educational Memoir by Lisa Winkler
By Mohammad Ibrar

Lisa WinklerLisa Winkler, a former journalist and educator, has written a captivating story about an African-American man traveling on horseback across the unbeaten paths of the United States in the 21st century. She has had her share of horseback riding, country life, and civil rights activism, all of which add to her perspective and how she adroitly paints African-American history like never before. “On the Trail of the Ancestors: A Black Cowboy’s Ride Across America” is an inspirational memoir of a man fulfilling his dreams, taking risks, connecting and honoring his roots.

Miles J. Dean, a Newark, N.J. school teacher had a childhood dream to ride a horse and as he grew up, he had a mission to follow the footsteps of African-American ancestors and to relive what they had undergone. After many years of planning and preparation, Dean was ready to set out to the Wild West, but before doing so, he received news that he developed a brain tumor. Pressed for time and avoiding life-threatening surgery, he treated himself with herbal medications, and in September of 2007, he had set out from New York with his horse, Sonkofa, to California. The six-month, 5,000-mile journey is told in a third-person narrative providing a detailed account of what occurred. He intended to commemorate the contributions African Americans made to the United States: stopping and visiting historical sites with significance in African-American history, schools, community organizations, and penal institutions inspiring hundreds to live life to the fullest degree and to fulfill their dreams deferred.

Winkler could relate to Dean as they worked in the same city and profession, yet it was his extraordinary story and drive that lassoed her mind and faculties to write the cowboy’s journey. Dean had mentioned that it was a learning experience for him and that it can be a greater source of learning for others. Using her past knowledge and research on African-American jockeys, she poured it into the melting pot of creativity. Relying on Dean’s minimalist diary, extensive meetings with Dean, his family members, people met en route, scholars, and other experts, she was capable of accurately furnishing Dean’s story chronologically and geographically. Winkler created the majority of the dialogues between the characters based on their personalities and interviews with the individuals, portraying them in a realistic fashion, but the characters and events remain true to Dean’s expedition.

As a writer, Winkler inspires her readers to accomplish their dreams, no matter the risks, and not to put dreams on hold. Additionally, the story has a lot of pedagogical potential. Soon she will release a comprehensive educator’s guide to accompany the book. The guide will include interactive student and group activities with “saddle ups” instead of “do nows;” class lessons on geography, language and arts, history, art and creativity, and reading exercises. Her current goal is to market the book to school districts, educators, and schools for instructional purposes. She has already presented her book and instructional guide to educators and classrooms in Newark. Learn more at www.lisakwinkler.com. #

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