By Barney Blakeney
February 17 the Committee On Better Racial Assurance (COBRA) held its first Drum Major for Justice Award tribute luncheon. Judge Richard E. Fields was presented the agency’s first award. Since its establishment in 1970, COBRA has stood at the forefront in activities promoting progress for minority communities.
The non-profit human services agency founded by CEO William ‘Bill’ Saunders since 1970 has extended itself beyond a community resource identifying and assisting in addressing specific needs. It has reached across the boundaries of disparate conditions that exist in Black communities concerning health, unfair employment practices and inequities in criminal justice. From an initial eclectic group of individuals willing to challenge the status quo that blatantly discriminated against Black citizens, COBRA became a cohesive unit offering respite where none existed.
Growing out of the Charleston Hospital Workers Strike of 1969, COBRA became a megaphone for Black voices in strategic places to magnify the talent within the community that could maximize participation and benefits which allowed for the best resolutions to issues. Early leaders included the late Arthur J. Clement Jr., Father Henry Grant, S.C. State Representative Rev. Robert R. Woods, Rev. Omega Newman, Rev. Willis T. Goodwin and Dr. Roy Woods. They implemented an array of services that included the Sickle Cell, Community Relations & Information Referral programs and the Concept Radio and Open Rap radio programs on WPAL radio station.
A number of practical programs also were implemented such as COBRA’s Home Repair, Bayside Youth Development, Hypertension Control Project, Income Tax Preparation and Youth Vocation and Exploration programs. Literally, hundreds of thousands of individuals have been served through COBRA’s programs.
In more recent years Rev. William Alston, George Dawson, Eddie Bines, Dr. Sherron Jackson, Linda Wright and Patricia Pugh have served among the leaders who saw new programs added – the Newborn Screening Pilot Project, the Sickle Cell Carnival, the Sickle Cell Walk-a-thon and Sickle Cell support group banquets. Current leaders such as Yvonne T. Orr, Dr. Barbara Dilligard and Dr. Oliver Addison have witnessed accomplishments like the acquisition of COBRA’s new office building in North Charleston.
Continuing its mission to serve South Carolinians through awareness, information, counseling, education and support COBRA past and present embraces cooperative alliances that provide greater benefits to its clients. Saunders and Executive Director Rev. Albertha Cook are committed to the mission that is as much a ministry designed to help people help themselves.