Ayvaunn Penn, adjunct professor of theatre at TCU, has written and is directing what she hopes will be an agent of social change. For Bo: A Play Inspired by the Murder of Botham Jean by Police Officer Amber Guyger utilizes contemporary free verse poetry, rhythm and percussion. It’s one of several events at TCU that will honor Black History Month.
“Black History Month reminds us of how far we have come as a country in terms of racial equality, as well as the great distance we have to go,” said Penn. “That is why the Black History Month event I am organizing for the theatre department and campus at large is honoring the life and legacy of Botham Jean: a young man of color whose murder by a police officer made history.”
The staged reading will be held at 7 p.m. Feb. 12 in room 130 of Betsy and Steve Palko Hall, and will include a community discussion immediately following. The reading is open to the public; admission is free, but seating is limited.
“As the director, I feel equally confident and excited. The cast of For Bo features some of our amazingly talented TCU theatre majors,” said Penn. “Together, we will honor the life of Botham Jean through our craft by creating something informative, powerful, entertaining, unforgettable and, hopefully, life-changing.”
The Dallas case garnered national attention when Guyger, a white female police officer, was convicted last year of killing Jean, a black male, after entering what she mistook as her own apartment.
“As I watched the Amber Guyger trial play out on national television along with the rest of America, this play was quickened in my spirit,” Penn said. “The exact moment was when I heard Judge Tammy Kemp say, ‘Why are the people locked out? This is the people’s court. Let the people come inside.’ There was something so magnificent about the way she said it. Something so true. Let the people witness. Let the people hear. Let us come together in this room and deal with this tragedy as a community. It was in that moment, that the seed for this play was planted.”
Penn clarifies that this is a fictional narrative inspired by the events, not an exact account.
“This play is intended to help us look at the issues that led to and surrounded Jean’s death without having to gaze directly into the sun, if you will,” she said.
Looking at the issues is exactly what Penn hopes to inspire with this event. An interdisciplinary panel will facilitate all points of view being heard, she said, and move conversations in the direction of viable solutions for positive social change. She hopes the production can be used to foster conversations that heal racial divides through empathy, examine issues in our criminal justice system and promote healthy relationships between civilians and police officers.
Penn is particularly encouraged that For Bo has captured the attention of others, with staged readings and discussions scheduled for other colleges such as University of South Carolina Aiken and KD Conservatory College of Film and Dramatic Arts.
“Stories are great, but the conversations they breed are even greater,” Penn said. “That is where the power lies.”
The community panel discussion, moderated by Stacie McCormick, assistant professor of English, will include Adrian Andrews, assistant vice chancellor of public safety; Robert Arrowood, a psychology doctoral student; Andrew Ledbetter, professor of communication studies; Michael Miller, dean and executive vice president of Brite Divinity School; Rev. Dr. Russ Peterman, senior minister of University Christian Church; Aisha Torrey-Sawyer, director of diversity and inclusion initiatives; and representatives from the TCU Counseling Center.