Fort Greene

Brenda O’Brien

Kesu James has the shining smile of his mother, Brenda (1950 – 2017), the one in her portrait gleaming in their sitting room. He grew up in the little block that everyone forgot — North Elliott Place. Kesu remembers when Eliott was only spelled with one ‘t’ on his block’s street sign and when Commodore Barry Park was simply known as City Park. Brenda moved her family of two to a home on the east side of the park. 

Everything Brenda did was planned. She laid roots in the neighborhood, with an intention to invest in and stay in community. Brenda grew up in Cumberland projects, the eldest of four, and was the first person in the family to be accepted into college, and attended Brooklyn College as one of the first non-segregated classes in their history. After college, she taught at P.S. 67 for a tenure of 33 years. Her neighbors’ children grew up knowing Ms. O’Brien’s smile and warmth. 

Brenda was a lifelong runner who completed seven New York City marathons. In the 80’s and 90’s through rain, heat, or snow you would spot her keeping pace around Prospect Park hours before the school day started. 

She never hesitated to share a smile or a few encouraging words to lift your spirit.  Brenda, side by side with Kesu, strolled the neighborhood enjoying the familiar places and faces, instilling in him the importance of human connection and positivity in the community so close to their hearts.

Portrait by

Kesu James

Kesu James is creative storyteller with career in advertising and a passion for collaboration. I was born and raised in Fort Greene and I believe my neighborhood is the greatest sum of all the parts of my life.

Portrait by

Ivan Valladares

Ivan Valladares is a ponderer, reader, and (occasional) writer. He works at the New York City Council connecting New Yorkers to government services, from neighborhood food pantries to their local park manager

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