Erin Jackman’s recollection of her childhood in Oyster Bay with her younger sister, Brooke, includes many memories that center on Brooke’s love of reading. “From the time she was a little girl,” Erin said, “she never put down her books.”
Erin said that her sister was always reading, often staying up late to read under her covers when she was supposed to be asleep. Their school bus driver once told their mother, Barbara Jackman, that Brooke was endangering herself, because she wouldn’t take her eyes off the page of a book even as she crossed the street to get onto the bus.
Despite her bookworm habits, Brooke always had many friends and was beloved by her family. Barbara said that her modesty was one of her signature qualities. “She was a very humble person,” her mother said, “and she never liked to look at things superficially.” She also said that Brooke spent her weekends in high school volunteering for various causes, helping needy children and the homeless.
Sadly, like so many other families in the tristate area, the Jackmans were struck by tragedy on Sept. 11, 2001. Brooke had joined Cantor Fitzgerald, a global financial firm, that June. She worked in the bonds department on the 104th floor of One World Trade Center, just five floors above where the tower was struck by a hijacked plane. In the inferno and the building collapse that followed, the Jackman family’s beloved youngest was gone at age 23.
According to Erin, Brooke had dreamt of becoming a social worker, specializing in working with children. In the wake of her death, her family decided to honor her memory by combining her biggest passions into one cause. In October 2001, they created the Brooke Jackman Foundation, which raises money to support children’s literacy in the tristate area.
“We just knew that her life got cut short and she didn’t get the chance to fulfill her dreams, so we just knew we had to do it for her,” Erin said.
The foundation hosts a variety of fundraisers each year, one of the biggest of which is the annual Brooke Jackman Race for Literacy. On May 18, the foundation will host its 14th annual race, a five-kilometer run from Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School to the parking lot of Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park and Beach. There is also a quarter-mile fun run for children 8 and younger.
“We have such great memories of growing up in O.B.,” Erin said, “we just wanted to do something there, something so vocal in a place she always called home.”
Mike Polansky, president of the Greater Long Island Running Club, said the club is involved in just about every running event on Long Island, and includes nearly all of them in its monthly magazine. The Brooke Jackman run, however, is especially dear to him because Brooke’s aunt and uncle once lived on his block.
“Of course it’s something I want to support,” Polansky said, “because I know the family, [and] I appreciate what Brooke was trying to do in her lifetime. It’s an event that’s worth supporting by the running community as well as everybody else.”
“It’s an important cause in its own right,” he added. “I can think of very few educational causes more important than children’s literacy.”
Although she no longer lives in Oyster Bay, Barbara Jackman said she loves that the race is held there, because the hamlet has always occupied a special place in her heart. “I just feel that this community was there for us, and I can’t say enough about the people of Oyster Bay,” she said. “It’s a wonderful small community. I was lucky to raise my children there.”
According to Erin, roughly 250 runners take part in the race each year. Through donations and sponsorships, it can raise as much as $20,000 for the foundation. Most of the money, as well as that raised in other fundraisers and by way of donations, goes directly to the foundation’s cause.
In its first year, the foundation served 100 children. Nearly 17 years later, it provides literacy aid to nearly 10,000 children and their families. It offers a variety of services, including after-school children’s literacy programs, family literacy programs and Brooke’s Backpacks — backpacks filled with new books and school supplies for children from kindergarten through fifth grade — to name just a few.
The foundation has even reached out to other areas of the country that have been struck by tragedy, helping out in Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, in Florida after Hurricane Irma and in Texas after Hurricane Harvey. “We were a family in trauma, so we feel for them,” Erin said. “Although it was a different type of trauma, when she went to work and never came home, everyone came to help us.”
To register for the 14th annual Brooke Jackman Race for Literacy, or to learn more about the Brooke Jackman Foundation, go to www.brookejackmanfoundation.com.