Guilty and forgiven
SEARCY, Ark. — A stunned silence fell over the daily…
SEARCY, Ark. — Future generations of Harding University students will learn to “Be Like Bo.”
The university, which is associated with Churches of Christ, made sure of that with this week’s dedication of a memorial honoring the late Botham Shem Jean.
On Wednesday — the day Jean would have turned 30 years old — Harding unveiled a special bench with a plaque bearing the beloved 2016 graduate’s image.
“Happy birthday, my son!” Allison Jean said as hundreds of relatives, friends and Harding students, faculty and staff members gathered outside the David B. Burks American Heritage Building.
“The pain of losing my son never goes away,” Botham’s mother said. “But we are comforted by the life that he lived and the promise from God that those who obey his word receive eternal life. I am also reminded by Apostle Paul that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”
Just three weeks before his 27th birthday, the faithful Christian was shot to death in his Dallas apartment on Sept. 6, 2018, by an off-duty police officer. The memorial recounts how his slaying and the officer’s ensuing murder trial gained national and international attention.
Related: Guilty and forgiven
“God, we ask that you help Harding to never forget the impact that Botham had here,” Steve Lake, who sponsored Harding’s Sub T-16 men’s social club when Jean was a member, said in the invocation.
At age 19, Jean left his native St. Lucia — a small island in the Caribbean — to attend Harding, a 5,000-student Christian university about 50 miles northeast of Little Rock.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting and management information systems, he worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers in Dallas. At the Dallas West Church of Christ, he served as a song leader and Bible class teacher.
The memorial means “Botham’s legacy will continue to live,” said Sammie Berry, a 1979 Harding graduate and longtime minister for the Dallas West church.
“All of the students who come on the campus, who eat in the cafeteria, will ask the question, ‘Who was Botham Shem Jean?’” Berry said after the ceremony. “And they’ll be able to know he was a great human being, a great Christian and a great worship leader.”
While at Harding, Jean performed across the U.S. with the Good News Singers, an a cappella singing group. That group, directed by Chuck Hicks, paid tribute to Jean by singing “Living Hope.”
“Botham’s death was truly a tragedy, and we continue to pray and grieve alongside all those who knew and loved him,” Harding President David B. Burks told the crowd. “I’m grateful … that his Christ-like influence, his life, will be remembered on our campus for generations to come.”
Besides erecting the memorial, Harding has raised about $1.3 million for scholarships in Jean’s name. Moreover, the university has established the Botham Jean Inspiration Award to help keep Jean’s memory alive.
Burks’ voice choked with emotion as he announced the inaugural award winner: Botham’s younger brother, Brandt Jean, a current Harding student.
“The first recipient … made a worldwide impact when he modeled true forgiveness in a Texas courtroom and inspired millions of others,” Burks said.
Brandt Jean was 19 when he offered forgiveness and a hug to fired Dallas police officer Amber Guyger after her 2019 murder conviction. His gesture made international headlines.
“I’m just so grateful,” Brandt Jean, now a 21-year-old Harding sophomore majoring in civil engineering, told The Christian Chronicle. He said he didn’t know what else to say about receiving the award named after his brother.
The best way to honor Botham Jean? Follow his example by serving Jesus, urged Todd Gentry, campus minister for the College Church of Christ in Searcy and a close friend of the Jean family.
“There’s no way we can bring (Botham) back. But we can remember him,” Gentry said. “And we can all live in such a way to be like Jesus. That way, we can ‘Be Like Bo’ and influence people and make a difference in this world.”
The slogan “Be Like Bo” was “coined as more than a hashtag,” Botham’s mother emphasized.
“It is symbolic of living an ambitious life that is centered around integrity, empathy and compassion for all mankind,” said Allison Jean, who was joined at the dedication by Botham’s father, Bertrum Jean, and his older sister, Allisa Findley. “In the words of Botham himself, ‘We are not alone as a community of believers, and I am comforted when I know I am not the only one doing something.’”
Bruce McLarty, who served as Harding’s president during Botham Jean’s time as a student, said the closing prayer.
“We thank you, Father, for Botham,” McLarty said. “We thank you that he lived among us and touched our lives. We thank you for that smile that had a very special way of brightening our day. Thank you for the way he led us in worship and lifted our souls to heaven. We thank you, Father, that your special servant lived among us and changed us.”
McLarty voiced hope that the memorial will bring honor to God.
“Father, may all who come along behind us — and may all who stop and linger for a moment by this memorial — be blessed and be drawn to you.”
BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected]
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