Organization for Black Struggle celebrates silver anniversary
By Meliqueica Meadows
Of the St. Louis American
The year 2005 marked the 25th anniversary of St. Louis’ largest grassroots community organization. Founded in 1980 by a small group of local activists, the Organization for Black Struggle (OBS) has grown into a force to be reckoned with in the community. Whether it’s police brutality or unjust incarceration, OBS is committed to fight for the rights of the disenfranchised.
“We organize for the purpose of waging black struggle, and that is on all different levels,” founding member Kalimu Endesha said.
“Even though St. Louis is majority black, basically we are still powerless. We’re the voice for the powerless. We can help folks organize around police brutality or being railroaded into the prison-industrial complex.”
Since its inception, OBS has succeeded on many fronts, perhaps none more memorable than the release of wrongfully convicted Ellen Reasonover. Endesha, founding member Jamala Rogers and board member Thomas Mines all agreed this was a defining moment for the organization.
On her way to do laundry in 1983, Reasonover stopped by a Dellwood gas station to get change. Although she could see three men inside the station, no one answered her repeated knocks at the window. When Reasonover later learned that she had happened upon a murder and robbery in progress, she contacted police, but Reasonover herself became the chief suspect. She ultimately served 16 years in prison for a crime she did not commit. Had it not been for the efforts of OBS and other committed organizations and individuals, she may never have been released.
“‘Grassroots’ doesn’t have to mean rag-tag or incompetent. We have always strived for a work style that reflects the best of our people,” Rogers said.
“Whether or not people agree with our politics or tactics, they respect our ability to stay on an issue for as long as it takes to bring resolution. I don’t think there are too many groups in St. Louis who are willing to stay on an issue like the unjust incarceration of Ellen Reasonover for almost two decades.
OBS is currently focusing its efforts on the Campaign for Reggie Clemons. Clemons was one of the three African-American co-defendants sentenced to death for their alleged involvement in the deaths of Robin and Julie Kerry in April 1991. (A fourth white co-defendant was given a 30-year sentence after turning state’s evidence against the other three and is eligible for parole in 2007.) The case and three subsequent capital murder trials was wrought with inconsistencies, alleged police brutality and prosecutorial misconduct.
The organization hopes to have the case reopened before Clemons is put to death. Along the same lines, OBS is working on the passage of Board Bill 69, which calls for a Civilian Review Board of the St. Louis Police Department.
“We are the best-kept secret in the city, and that’s because we are not corporate-sponsored. We are not begging to be sponsored, as such, so in order to get our message out it takes a whole lot of effort in a lot of creative ways,” Endesha said.
“It’s an organization that has not been co-opted by any corporation or individual,” Mines said.
“For 25 years plus, this organization has been at the forefront of the movement in the St. Louis area, and that success is due directly to the efforts of Jamala Rogers, Kalimu and all the other members.”
OBS has survived for the past 25 years because of its commitment to principle, tenacity and vision, along with its deep roots in the community. While some may find an organization like OBS to be outdated and unnecessary in the face of a growing black middle class, members know that a need for the group’s work will continue well into the future.
“The people who know what the organization is about know that it will always be relevant, because the message is very clear,” Mines said.
“Unfortunately, after 25 years of struggle we still got the same problems that they had when they first started out, such as police repression, police brutality and unjust imprisonment. Those things are still very prevalent in our community, so the message is still loud and clear and the work must continue.”
Endesha agreed with Mines that the current plight of African Americans and the poor in St. Louis demands that OBS’ efforts continue.
“A lot of the oppressive and racist things that happened in the past have just taken different forms,” Mines said, “and we have had to pull the cover off of those different kinds of racist, oppressive, sexist practices and let folks know that the struggle still continues.”
The OBS 26th anniversary, “Katrina: Action after outrage, Democracy under water,” will be held January 28. For more information, call (314) 367-5959 or visit www.obs-onthemove.org.