Brenda is Shaka's girlfriend at the time of his arrest, and they have a son together: L'il Jay. Brenda is a strong and beautiful young woman who really cares about her siblings and would do anything for them. And it looks like they're going to have a strong relationship together: Shaka and Shaka really care about each other, and both really hope for a better life for their unborn child.
But unfortunately, the circumstances of their lives are pretty messed up when they meet. They're both selling drugs at the time, Shaka is growing more and more paranoid in response to having been shot not long before, and Brenda has been through a lot of tough things.
Shaka describes it this way:
That's how my relationship with Brenda began. You know, "Boy meets girl, girl asks boy to borrow a gun, boy and girl start dealing crack together." (15.13)
Not exactly the plot of most rom-coms.
After that, it's probably not too hard to imagine why Shaka and Brenda have their share of relationship problems. They have genuine affection for each other, but they also have a fair amount of baggage. Shaka admires Brenda's "big heart" and commitment to her siblings, and they enjoy laughing and joking together. (15.15-15.16)
But Brenda also has a lot to overcome. Shaka puts it this way:
Sadly, however, like many Black youth growing up in dysfunctional homes, her golden heart had been callused by neglect, hurt, and heartbreak. (15.15)
Since they're both facing a lot of tough stuff, they have a fair amount of conflict. Their first fight is pretty intense, and it's not the only one. (15.16) Shaka says,
I was raised to respect women and treat them well, but nothing in the father-son handbook had prepared me to deal with a girl as volatile as Brenda. (15.16)
Plus, Shaka is getting really unhappy in the drug dealing life, and drinking to try to cope with it. (15.18) As he says,
I wasn't happy, and no matter how much money we made, it wasn't enough to heal the deep wounds I had suffered as a kid. (15.18)
When Shaka is sent to prison, Brenda wants to be there for him, but the pressures of life are just too much for her, and the relationship doesn't hold up. She continues to raise their son L'il Jay, though.