In the spring of 2019, I got coffee with my uncle’s brother Brent A. Renaud, a Nieman Fellow at the time. I was a pre-frosh, nervous about matriculating; Brent was kind enough to offer me his time and insights about Harvard. He seemed to truly enjoy his time here and the work he was doing, from taking classes to mentoring students to working on his own projects. It meant a lot to me to have family already at the institute where I was to spend my next four years. It was the first time I felt as though Harvard wasn’t so distant.
I’d grown up in awe of Brent and my Uncle Craig’s work as journalists and documentary filmmakers who willingly entered dangerous conflict zones to lift up those without a voice and expose the realities of war, oppression, and injustice to all. I watched my aunt worry over their trips to Mexico to cover drug cartels, or to Iraq when the Arkansas National Guardsmen were deployed there. As I grew in age and in understanding of their mission, I fostered a deep respect and admiration for their bravery and incredible commitment to telling such important stories.
Last week, Brent was tragically shot and killed near Kyiv, Ukraine, while covering the refugee crisis there. He was with Juan Arredondo, also a former Nieman Fellow, who is still recovering from his injuries in Kyiv. I had known that he was in Ukraine. Though I was concerned, I had assumed he would be safe while documenting the refugee crisis — hopefully distanced from the center of fire. But as we found out more, we learned that journalists in the area were being targeted and attacked by Putin’s government.
As Brent’s family, we all knew the risks of his line of work. We believed in its necessity just as he did. In making visible the unfortunately oft-overlooked suffering at the heart of crises, Brent threatened the control of those in power — and paid the ultimate sacrifice for it. This was his life’s work. He made an outsize difference in the world up until the very end.
My thoughts are with the people of Ukraine and their friends and family elsewhere who are affected by this baseless conflict. Additionally, I look to the journalists who are carrying on the work that Brent was doing, and especially to my Uncle Craig, who was Brent’s other half in his life’s work. I grieve for Uncle Brent and all the others hurt in this crisis, and I am angered by the unnecessary loss and suffering. Most of all, I am heartbroken over the time I thought I had left to connect with Brent, to learn from him, to see the heart that he put into these projects — a time unfairly cut short.
While he was a Nieman Fellow, Brent, along with Juan, put in many hours at The Crimson mentoring our student journalists. In the spring of 2019, when I expressed interest in joining The Crimson, he recommended the organization wholeheartedly to me. Last week, a former Crimson editor who had worked with Brent told me that, before his fellowship ended, Brent had expressed his excitement at the prospect of my joining the Crimson. My work here and elsewhere will always be inspired by his passion. Rest in peace, Uncle Brent.
Sara Komatsu ’23-’24, a Crimson Arts Editor-at-Large, is an English concentrator in Dunster House.