A Texas professor and playwright is bringing her newest play to USC Aiken, and she hopes it can inspire hope, unity and community discussion from of some of society's most divisive topics.

"For Bo: A Play Inspired by the Murder of Botham Jean" will be performed Feb. 20 at the USCA Etherredge Center, 340 Scholar Loop.

Ayvaunn Penn, a theater professor at Texas Christian University, created the play as a fictional narrative surrounding the events of the murder of Botham Jean, an unarmed African American man who was shot in his Dallas apartment in 2018 by a police officer who mistook Jean's residence for his own.

Following the performance, a panel of multi-disciplinary professionals will engage the audience members in a community discussion about ways that issues such as social healing and unity can be promoted in Aiken.

Paul Crook, executive director of the Etherredge Center, Hoss Brown and Travis Hardee, in Diversity Initiatives, were instrumental in bringing the play to Aiken.

Crook said Penn is a former student of his. 

"Hoss, Travis and I really felt that this play is an excellent opportunity to engage the campus and larger community with a sensitive issue that affects us all," Crook said. "Additionally, it is a wonderful example of how the arts can serve as a catalyst for social discussion and growth."

Penn said the inspiration for the play poured out of her from an "inner place of heartbreak, fear, frustration and hope for a better tomorrow."

"I wrote 'For Bo,' so the conversations about what led to Botham Jean's death would not die with him," Penn said. "It's one thing to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but Jean was in the right place at the right time – at home. The wrong person entered his apartment and made a horribly wrong decision. How do we keep this from happening again? These conversations must continue and lead to action, if we want to see change."

Penn said she launched the #ForBo initiative to combat the fears and prejudices within society that she believed led to his death.

"For Bo" is not an exact account of the events of Jean's murder, but a fictional narrative.

"I took this approach to help audiences be able to look at critical social issues related to this case without having to gaze directly into the sun, if you will," Penn said. "Audiences will experience – through contemporary free verse poetry, rhythm and percussion – a powerful story that will hopefully change and save lives."

Penn, who is also a composer and director, hopes the discussion following the play can promote awareness, healing and equality.

"I am absolutely elated to have University of South Carolina Aiken participate in the #ForBo Initiative along with other colleges during Black History Month," Penn said. "In addition to Black History Month calling upon society to slow down and recognize past achievements and sacrifices made by African Americans to help move America forward, it is also a reminder that history is as close as yesterday. It 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 ... that history was just in 2018 and still feels like yesterday."

Kristina Rackley is a general assignment reporter with the Aiken Standard.