Nearly a year after being ousted as head of Churches United, a Brooklyn-based affordable housing advocacy group, Father James O’Shea made his first public appearance in Brooklyn, receiving the first annual Churches United for Fair Housing Person of the Year Award.
“People deserve to have their own power,” said O’Shea, accepting his award at Nina’s Restaurant (635 Meeker Avenue) in Williamsburg on September 10.“It’s about people who accept that they have the same right and dignity as others, and we all have the same right to build our life together.When people get together and say this is what we want, it is a great truth.”
The events of the past year surrounding O’Shea’s resignation and the dissolution of Churches United were on the minds of many who attended the dinner, which also honored Broadway Triangle Community Coalition leader Juan Ramos and Williamsburg resident Herb Santiago.On November 18, 2008, the founding members of Churches United asked O’Shea to step down as head of the organization, before replacing the organization’s current board members and installing Father Tony Hernandez, pastor at Transfiguration Roman Catholic parish (263 Marcy Avenue), as its president.
Instead of recounting the history, many of the guests focused on the future, and honored O’Shea’s legacy in the community.
Churches United for Fair Housing Executive Director Rob Solano praised O’Shea for getting him involved in affordable housing campaigns in North Brooklyn and renewing his faith in Catholicism.
“He said, ‘You’re always complaining about losing neighbors, so why don’t you do something about it?’” said Solano, who presented O’Shea with the award, before announcing that the Person of the Year award will be named after Father James O’Shea in perpetuity.
Community leaders including Michael Rochford from St. Nicholas NPC, Luis Garden Acosta from El Puente, Evelyn Cruz, community liaison to Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (D-Williamsburg, Brooklyn Heights), and Councilmember Diana Reyna (D-Williamsburg) attended the event in support of O’Shea.Reyna declared the dinner a respite from a hectic and stressful campaign, praising the work of the pastor and the housing advocates in the room.
“Father O’Shea has expanded and demonstrated what the power of people can accomplish,” said Reyna.“He is an inspiration and I want to reinforce that.The string that will bring us together is the love for one another in accomplishing greatness.”