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Family: Drowning victim was a mom, teacher who overcame abuse, poverty

By Alexis Stevens, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution #atlanta-ga

Sarah Jackson had overcome countless obstacles and hardships in her life. But she was a fighter, a courageous mother of four daughters, a teacher and an advocate, according to her family.

Days before her death, Jackson had also been a crime victim when three robbers took her cellphone and all of her valuables from her purse, her brother said. She was forced to cancel a Labor Day trip to Savannah and instead took her girls to a Gwinnett County park with a lake. She couldn’t travel without her identification and credit cards.

When her 9-year-old went under the water, Jackson went in to save her. But she couldn’t save herself, and Jackson drowned despite lifesaving measures performed at the lake and hospital. She was 45.

“She lost her life being exactly what she was (and always had been), a good mother!” her brother posted on a fundraising page. “Sarah is a hero on so many levels.”

James Jackson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Monday that his sister was strong and determined. Even when she was homeless, she didn’t want to ask for help.

“Get on a plane, get on a bus, or I’ll be there to get you,” James Jackson, who lives in Washington state, said he would have told his only sister.

Now, Sarah Jackson is being remembered for her dedication not only to her family, but also to her Duluth Middle School students and a nonprofit group that helps homeless families.

The Duluth Middle School family is grieving the tragic and sudden loss of one of our wonderful teachers, Ms. Sarah…

Posted by Duluth Middle School on Thursday, September 10, 2020

Jackson was involved on the national and local level with a homelessness group called Family Promise and shared her story at national conferences, the group’s CEO said.

“Many Family Promise staff, board members, guests, graduates, and volunteers have met her through her national work; all have been touched by her influence and wisdom in helping shape national policy and direction,” Claas Ehlers, Family Promise CEO, said in a letter posted on the organization’s website. “Because of her, we are better able to serve children and their families.”

Ehlers told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Jackson had served on the organization’s Guest Advisory Council, made up of people from around the country who had previously experienced homelessness.

“Who is a better expert than people who have experienced it?” Ehlers said. “She helped guide how others could be successful too. Everybody is just in shock about the loss.”

Jackson’s brother didn’t know about his sister’s involvement in helping the homeless until her death, he said.

After losing her mother to suicide when she was a toddler, Sarah Jackson lived with abusive guardians, according to her brother. Later, the two lost an older brother to suicide.

After moving to Georgia as an adult with her four daughters, Jackson lost her job and then her home and car. She and her children were in a homeless shelter and then transitional housing. Jackson decided that resuming her studies to get a college degree was the key to security, she said in a Georgia Gwinnett College article.

“School was one of the main driving forces for me during this difficult and humbling experience because I knew completing my education would open the door to a career that would ultimately create financial stability and change the quality of life for my family,” she said. “I had to complete my degree. My family’s future was dependent upon it.”

In May 2013, Jackson was a speaker at her college graduation ceremony, where she shared with others her path to her diploma.

“I have climbed my mountain, but I could not have done it alone,” Jackson said. “So many people have made a difference in my life during this journey and I am often reminded that though we are all individuals, we are connected as local communities and as a world. We all can make an impact.”

Later, Jackson decided to pursue teaching and earned certification as an instructor in special education. On Friday, when she would have turned 46, her family and friends gathered at Alexander Park in Lawrenceville. Many wore purple, Jackson’s favorite color, while singing “Happy Birthday” and having cake to celebrate her life, her brother said.

This coming Friday, the family plans another memorial from 2:30 to 5 p.m. at Lucky Shoals Park in Norcross. The public is invited and is urged to practice social distancing.

Sarah Jackson is survived by her daughters, ages 9, 11, 13 and 20, and numerous relatives and friends. Her brother, who also has four daughters, said he will take care of his nieces. James Jackson said he’s thinking of moving to Gwinnett and buying a home so his sister’s children don’t have to leave the community that has been very supportive since their mother’s death.

“This journey that they’re on, this is a repeat,” he said. “Sarah was on this journey herself. The difference is these kids have more support than Sarah did.”

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