IRVINGTON, NJ — The Irvington community is shattered by the untimely, tragic death of one of its own. College sophomore Nashawn Brooks, age 20, died June 10 following a motor vehicle accident on Route 22 in Newark.
The car, carrying Brooks and four others, crashed, ejecting three passengers. The collision caused the car to burst into flames, claiming the lives of the two other victims, 19-year-old Taylor Hill and 18-year-old Kamal Johnson. The two other passengers survived. The five were returning from a party at Point Pleasant Beach.
Holding a candlelight vigil in Brooks’ memory, members of the Irvington community came in droves to share their collective pain at Irvington High School, where Brooks had been a multitalented athlete, named IHS Male Athlete of the Year in 2019, won the title of prom king in 2019 and ultimately graduated with a full-ride football scholarship to Wagner College. It was painfully obvious how much everyone loved Nashawn Brooks.
“I feel proud for today,” Brooks’ mother, Yulyn Chisholm, said at the vigil. “I feel like my son’s legacy was displayed greatly, because that’s how hard he worked and how strong he really was. He was a really good kid. A lot of parents will say, ‘I have a good son,’ or, ‘I have a great kid,’ but Nashawn was literally a good kid. Humble. Strong. Hardworking. And he just tried so hard to get where he needed to go, and he got there. But it was just cut short.
“Everybody loved him,” she continued. “As his mom, I made him strong. Over the years, I was like, ‘Shawn, you want to be great? I’ll support you and I’ll feed you,’ because he loved to eat. I’m from Guyana, so everything is curry chicken and rice. He wanted me to teach him how to make it for his girlfriend, Nashawna. I said, ‘Well, come and I’ll teach you,’ but he ended up going to the beach.
“I’m trying,” she admitted. “I’m trying to stay strong right now. I feel like my legs are going to buckle. But I’m just trying.”
Brooks’ close friend, Elton Jean-Baptiste, is taking the loss especially hard.
“I feel anger,” Jean-Baptiste said on June 11. “I feel grief, sadness, pain, anger. I just want to make sure everyone knows to think before you act.”
According to Jean-Baptiste, that night, he and Brooks were headed home from the beach and agreed to race each other. Brooks sat in the passenger seat of one car while Jean-Baptiste drove an SUV. Making it to Route 22, the car Brooks was in was faster and sped ahead, leaving Jean-Baptiste attempting to keep up.
“As I was taking the exit, there were three cars ahead of me, so I slowed down. After that, I thought to myself that the race is over, so I’ll just take everyone home. I took an exit, but they kept going because they had the other three people to take home. While I was driving, I had asked someone to call Nashawn, but he didn’t pick up. So, someone called Nashawna, the driver. She didn’t pick up.
“Right then and there, I had a feeling something happened, but I just wanted to assume their phones were both dead. I chose not to think too much of it,” he continued. “I woke up at 5 a.m. to missed calls and texts. I called Coach Smoke, and he told me the situation. After that, my heart dropped. I was hoping for the best because he was still alive. Later, I got the news and it had me stuck. I didn’t think it was real. I was at a loss for words.”
Photos by EmilyAnn Jackman