Remembering Eddie Kittrell (1951-2023): Nationally known public housing advocate and

eddie-kittrell-1400x2087, Remembering Eddie Kittrell (1951-2023): Nationally known public housing advocate and, Featured World News & Views
Portrait of Eddie Kittrell, gift of the Kittrell family.

by Anna Hennessey

Known locally and nationally for his decades of community work in San Francisco and especially for his deep support of Potrero Hill Annex and Terrace Public Housing Development residents, Eddie Lee Kittrell passed away on Thursday, Dec. 28, 2023. He is survived by his daughters Thushaunda, Kim, Karish, Nakina, Deandra and Sharmila, his grandchildren Chariyah, DeAngelo, and Isaiah, and his four sisters, Lucille Kendricks, Piedy Kittrell, Nettie Kittrell and Carlean Kittrell, as well as by his many extended family members and friends. His dear wife Brenda predeceased him in 2020, as did his loving daughter Edie in 2022.

Eddie’s love for his children and family was great, and this love was at the root of his advocacy for others, a central theme in his life. The seeds that made Eddie who he was were planted early on during his childhood in the South.

Born in El Dorado, Arkansas, on Oct. 28, 1951, to Earnest and Eunice Kittrell, Eddie had fond memories of growing up in the South. Born into a family of eight children as the fifth child and youngest son, Eddie reflected on how his parents, both born and raised in El Dorado, brought stability and discipline to the family. Lifelong partners, Eddie’s parents had a deep influence on his early understanding of family and community. His father Earnest was employed by Ford Motor Co. for 30 years before passing away in 1967, while his mother Eunice attended church regularly and cooked delicious soul food for family and friends throughout Eddie’s childhood. While in El Dorado, Eddie went to Carver Elementary School and Washington High School. He was baptized and attended services at El Dorado’s First Baptist Church.

In 1969, Eddie was drafted and served in Vietnam. While in the military in 1970, he married his high school sweetheart, Annie Mae George, with whom he had two daughters, Thushaunda (Bobby) and Kim. Eddie returned to El Dorado from Vietnam on Dec. 23, 1971, as part of “Operation Santa Claus” right before Christmas. He remembered that day as a glorious moment in his life, rejoining him with his family after his time at war for the United States. For the rest of Eddie’s life, he partook in activities and associations that united him with fellow veterans.

In 1973, Eddie moved to Dallas, Texas, following his separation with Annie Mae. He was employed by the city of Dallas before his older brother Freddie Lee encouraged him to move to Los Angeles, a place Freddie had grown to know well. Always up for learning about a new place, Eddie moved to Los Angeles and stayed there until the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, at which point he moved up to Hunters Point in San Francisco to live with his mother Eunice who had herself transferred to the West Coast in the years following her husband Earnest’s death.

Eddie lived with Eunice in her home, though she longed for her life in the South and ultimately moved back to El Dorado. In the meantime, Eddie met Brenda Henry in San Francisco, the woman who would later become Brenda Kittrell (1955-2020), Eddie’s wife and lifelong partner. Eddie always emphasized how he and Brenda were very good friends first, developing their friendship over the course of four years before beginning a relationship and ultimately marrying on New Year’s Eve in 1985.

During their many years together, Eddie and Brenda, both of whom had children from previous relationships, created a blended family and had two children of their own, daughters Edie and Sharmila. In the early 1990s, the family moved to Potrero Hill Annex and Terrace Public Housing Development, a pivotal time for the couple as they decided to focus on the community of public housing. Eddie soon became president of the community’s Tenants Association, a position that quickly led to Eddie’s broader outreach with national organizations, including the National Organization of African Americans in Housing (NOAAH), which awarded Eddie for his work. He began meeting with local politicians and figures such as Gregg Fortner, then director of San Francisco Housing Authority, and Gavin Newsom when Newsom was mayor of San Francisco.

For his advocacy on behalf of public housing residents, Eddie also began traveling to Washington, D.C., and met with various members of Congress and other politicians during the Clinton administration. He was invited to meetings of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and sworn in during the 1990s as a representative for public housing residents. Eddie was one of the key figures who attempted to transform stigmas attached to public housing. He sought to change negative language such as “project” to describe public housing, for example, using the word “development” instead, the latter term indicating growth and potential as an important part of public housing communities. Eddie hoped that a focus on family, as opposed to crime or violence, would become integral to understanding the concept of public housing as a place of community. He said that although public housing cannot change overnight, it can become an incrementally better place for people to live and raise their families.

After Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005, Eddie and Brenda were part of a team that went down to New Orleans to work on issues related to rebuilding public housing. They visited the city’s 9th Ward Neighborhood and saw firsthand the damage done to some of New Orleans’ poorest communities. It was under the mayorship of Gavin Newsom in 2006 that Eddie became part of a redevelopment task force created to work on rehabilitating San Francisco’s public housing. Originally, Eddie and others in the group were told that longtime public housing residents in San Francisco, both in Potrero Hill and in other neighborhoods, would be given an opportunity to purchase their homes through savings and loans. Over the past two decades, however, that possibility dwindled.

eddie-on-potrero-hill-by-mariangela-mistretta, Remembering Eddie Kittrell (1951-2023): Nationally known public housing advocate and, Featured World News & Views
Eddie on Potrero Hill in the neighborhood he loved. – Photo: Mariangela Mistretta

Eddie spent many years, even up until near the time of his death, attending Bridge Housing community meetings to discuss the concerns of residents. Bridge Housing Corp is the development company currently working closely with Eugene Burger Management Corp. to “rebuild” public housing in San Francisco. In Potrero Hill, the project has morphed into a land grab, focusing significant attention on using prime real estate previously allocated for public housing residents for new market rate homes instead. In the meantime, property maintained for public housing residents is in disarray, decay and in some cases downright dangerous. As Mission Local has been reporting since 2023, available through its Potrero Hill Archive, problems for Potrero Hill public housing residents are increasing at the site. Eddie was aware of these problems and stood up regularly for tenants at Bridge Housing meetings.

Although Eddie was very busy over the years with all of his community work and activism in San Francisco and nationally, his priority was consistently with his family. Eddie’s daughter Sharmila, with whom Eddie lived until the end of his life, always felt secure that he was devoted to his family. Feeling a deep sense of loss, she is also grateful for her time with her father growing up and having spent time with him into her adult years. “He was an awesome father, and he cherished his children and grandchildren. My father was very big on family and showing us the right way to do certain things. I miss him dearly and he could never be replaced. I will forever have a void in my heart.”

Eddie stayed on as president of the Potrero Hill Annex and Terrace Tenants Association for 20 years. He and Brenda built their home and family in the Annex, their apartment becoming a vibrant place for community gatherings, teachings, games and meals for local families and friends. In 2011, the couple met Jennifer Dhillon, a not-for-profit leader and former Bay Area environmental attorney. Dhillon had founded the Healthy Generations Project (HGP), a non-profit organization committed to community based and peer-led programs, and Eddie and Brenda soon became founding members and advisors to the project. Some of the activities they led included the Walking School Bus, an important program devoted to providing children at Annex and Terrace with a home-to-school walking service, helping families to feel secure that their children had arrived safely at school. The Walking School Bus in Potrero Hill has over the years served Daniel Webster and Starr King Elementary Schools.

Dhillon, who became close with both Eddie and Brenda during their lives, believes Eddie to have been one of the most resilient people she has ever met, as well as a person who was forever devoted to the well-being of his fellow human being, “Whether his adversity was an emotional loss or physical challenge he would resolutely decide he would preserve. He had the most incredible faith. What I especially loved and admired about Eddie was that whatever was going on with him, he never stopped looking for ways he could help others. He was a generous person in all things.”

In 2018, Ken Fisher, an Emmy nominated filmmaker, and Mariangela Mistretta, a documentary filmmaker and journalist, began working with Eddie to document his life in Potrero Hill Annex and Terrace. Based in San Francisco, they have an archive of raw video footage showing the transformations taking place in Eddie’s life and in Potrero Hill.

Mistretta, who also lives in Potrero Hill and has a deep connection to the Daniel Webster Elementary School community, especially remembers Eddie’s devotion to the children he served through the Walking School Bus program, “I will remember Eddie while leading the Walking School Bus, and escorting kids to school every morning in Potrero Hill, along with his wife Brenda. His reassuring smile. He wasn’t only escorting them, he was providing guidance, he was granting a safe space, both physically and emotionally. His presence was a synonym of trustworthiness: an adult who shows up every day for the children of Potrero Hill Public Housing.” Fisher also recalls Eddie’s strong connection to the Potrero Hill community, “he was very social justice oriented and he cared deeply for his community and worked to improve it in many ways. He was truly a humanitarian.”

In 2020, Eddie lost Brenda, who had been very healthy and energetic when she was younger but passed away at home from health issues over the last decade of her life. In 2021, Eddie made a heartfelt video with the Bounce Back Generation series about the profound nature of his relationship and history with Brenda. He described Brenda’s death and the subsequent grief he felt as the hardest time in his life. His faith in God was what helped him to move on. San Francisco’s Cornerstone Missionary Baptist Church was Eddie’s church and became a very important place for him. His pastor, Dr. Rodney Leggett, performed a gravesite service for Brenda because she passed away at the beginning of the pandemic when churches, schools and businesses all shut down and no services could take place inside the church.

Eddie also lost his dear daughter Edie in 2022, which had a devastating effect on Eddie and his other family members. Edie was a vibrant woman who was living in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood at the time of her death. Piedy Kittrell, one of Eddie’s sister, remarks that with his passing, Eddie is now at peace and with Edie again.

Towards the end of 2020, Eddie himself experienced a health crisis after being diagnosed with cancer and undergoing major surgery. Eddie’s family and friends witnessed as Eddie’s health quickly deteriorated. However, Eddie’s life was not yet over, and he was determined to recover. Over the course of a year, Eddie rebuilt his health, the deep strength of his voice returning, as well as the steady stride of his tall frame walking down the street. For those around him, Eddie was a living miracle. He found new joy, doing security for the Warriors while still maintaining many other aspects of his life. After various treatments for his cancer, however, Eddie encountered new health issues in the early spring of 2023, and these issues ultimately led to his death in December.

Jennifer Dhillon was in touch with Eddie towards the end of his life and watched his greatness carry him forth. “Our last conversation was about death. Even as he was realizing that this time the cancer would get him, he faced it with bravery, acceptance and faith that everything was going to be OK. He would surely go on. He lived his life believing in his power to do good, and he did do so much good for so many.” 

Pastor Rodney Leggett performed Eddie’s Celebration of Life memorial service at Cornerstone Baptist Church on Jan. 23, 2024. In addition to family members and friends in attendance, many others joined the ceremony to pay their respects to Eddie and his family. A large number of attendees offered acknowledgements and expressions to emphasize Eddie’s positive influence and real actions in helping them to change their lives for the better. Local politicians and dignitaries, including San Francisco’s District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton and representatives from Mayor London Breed’s office, also attended and spoke in celebration and remembrance of Eddie.

Edward Hatter, executive director of the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House (the NABE) and a longtime community leader for the Potrero Hill Annex and Terrace community, knew Eddie for many years. Beyond their shared interest in advocating for public housing residents in Potrero Hill, Eddie and Hatter were friends. Saying goodbye to his friend, Hatter sums up both Eddie’s character and how his loss has an impact on the greater community, “Potrero Hill has lost another warrior in our battle for an equitable community. Eddie Kittrell; a soldier, a family man, a dedicated community member, and the true friend to have your back in the trenches. We’ll miss your love and leadership.”

On Jan. 24, 2024, Eddie received a military burial at the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery in Dixon, California. He will be missed by many, forever loved, and remembered for a long time.

Anna Hennessey is a writer and scholar in San Francisco. She met Eddie and Brenda Kittrell in 2016 and became a volunteer with the Walking School Bus in Potrero Hill Annex and Terrace under their guidance. Hennessey’s articles for the San Francisco Bay View include those on Brenda Kittrell, John Smith, and Starr King Elementary School. Her website is and she may be reached at