Kareem Rosser: A ride from the ‘bottom’ to the top in polo

By Grace Barlow

Abington Friends School

Jade Sanders believed that her dreams were “too big.” Sanders, a junior at Abington Friends School and competitor in the New Balance Indoor Track Nationals, changed her mind when she heard Kareem Rosser’s story. 

While riding bikes with his brothers in Fairmount Park, not far from where they lived, the boys discovered a rare, ultimately life-changing find in West Philadelphia not far from where they lived — horse stables. These stables became the place that transformed a young boy from the city into a young man who made history.  

Kareem Rosser is a Philadelphia native, financial analyst, and treasurer of Work to Ride, an organization that trains disadvantaged youth to become equestrians.

Rosser had to work to ride, and life outside of the stables did not make it easy. 

“If I had to choose the stables or home, I certainly would’ve chosen to live at the stables,” said Rosser.

Kareem Rosser, a national polo champion, decked out in Ralph Lauren attire. Courtesy of Ralph Lauren.

Growing up in West Philadelphia, in a section of the city known as The Bottom, Rosser was surrounded by drug abuse and gun violence.

“My mom was one of those people who struggled with addiction,” he said. Rosser grew up in a single-parent home. “My mom raised six of us by herself,” he said.

Despite the difficult circumstances, Rosser found comfort in the sport of polo. The stables were not only Rosser’s “home away from home,” he said, but polo made him feel safe, a feeling that was peculiar to many of the children in his neighborhood. 

W.E.B. DuBois, the civil rights activist, author, and sociologist, introduced a concept known as double-consciousness, which describes how Black people have to battle between their blackness while being pressured to conform to white societal standards. DuBois wrote, “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.” 

“We weren’t just these poor Black kids from Philadelphia. We were kids who had a purpose.”

Kareem Rosser

African Americans are torn apart by the warring identities and perspectives they are forced to inhabit. For centuries, polo has been described as “the sport of kings.” Historically, polo has been exclusive. The cost of participation is equivalent to some low-income families’ salaries for an entire month or year. 

“We weren’t just these poor Black kids from Philadelphia,” said Rosser. “We were kids who had a purpose.”

Rosser redefined who the “sport of kings” characterized as worthy to play.

“I think it really just came down to me believing that I was capable of playing at a high level,” he said. He explained that he became a national polo champion because he decided, “I belonged in that space.”

In 2011, Rosser led his Work To Ride team to victory. They became the first African American polo team to win the Interscholastic National Championship. “Regardless of the lack of resources that we had, we could still come and perform — not only perform but also win,” he said. 

With his award-winning memoir Crossing The Line, Rosser continues to inspire youth nationally. “Winning the championship was one of the many reasons that inspired me to write the book,” he said. 

Jade Sanders, a leader on and off the track field, read Rosser’s memoir and had an opportunity to meet him at her school.

Students and faculty from Abington Friends School in a discussion and book signing with Kareem Rosser. Courtesy of Matthew MacNaughton, Abington Friends Assistant Director of Communications

“Letting that feeling of ‘others define how capable I am’ was a very limiting feeling. But after hearing from Kareem, I have this representation of someone who overcame these impossible odds,” she said. 

Sydney Johnson, a student-activist who attends Abington Friends School, also found Rosser’s story to be inspirational. “I have more hope that if I put the work in and I stay set on my goals that I will get there,” said Johnson. 

Despite the cards stacked against Rosser, he escaped violence, followed his dreams, and shaped history. 

“I use my experiences to help me move forward, also to allow myself to continue to believe that I’m worth being here,” he said.

Rosser shows young leaders that in order to do better for themselves, they need to believe that they are capable and that they belong. 

 “Kareem opened my eyes to see that I have no limits in my life,” said Sanders, a rising senior. Now she encourages her peers that big dreams can come true.

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