Botham Shem Jean’s impact on people—co-workers, classmates and church family—lives on even though the 26-year-old’s life was cut short by a white former Dallas cop. His legacy already includes a foundation and scholarship fund, but now we can now add nationwide corporate diversity training to the list.
Jean worked for the global accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). His tragic death in September, mired in a complicated, racially fueled narrative, inspired the company to expand its own conversation about race and diversity issues.
PwC spearheaded a “Day of Understanding” last Friday and billed it as the “largest mass dialogue focused on addressing bias in the workplace” at 150 participating companies. The goal was to build a more trusting place to have complex, and sometimes difficult, conversations about diversity and inclusion.
“This is a journey. I don’t think one day or one activity will get people to change where we are as a country or society,” PwC Chief Purpose Officer Shannon Schuyler recently told NewsOne. “That said, we have to start somewhere.”
Jean, a native of the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, graduated in 2016 with a degree in accounting and management information systems from the private Christian college Harding University in Arkansas. He was also a gifted singer who had the ability to move worshippers with his voice at his Dallas church.
His family was reportedly putting the final touches on a foundation to honor their beloved son and brother.
Its goal is “to carry on Botham’s legacy of improving the lives of people in the St. Lucian community,” Jean’s mother, Allison Jean, told the Dallas Morning News.
Harding University and Southwestern Christian College, an HBCU in Terrell, Texas, will honor Jean with academic scholarships in his name.
Amber Guyger, the 30-year-old cop who killed Jean, was indicted late last month on murder charges. On the night of Sept. 6, she illegally entered his apartment, which was located one floor above her own, and shot him to death. She implausibly claimed that following a long day at work she mistook Jean’s apartment for her own. After ordering Jean not to move, shot him twice, she said.
News of Jean’s death, and particularly the racial elements surrounding the shooting of yet another unarmed Black man by a white cop, inspired PwC’s CEO Tim Ryan to send a companywide email about the associate in the global accounting firm’s risk assurance department.
“Emotions are raw not only in Dallas but across the firm. It is important that we all take time to understand the experiences our underrepresented minorities — and especially, in this situation, our black colleagues — experience in everyday life so that we can all be better co-workers, friends and allies,” Ryan wrote.
Schuyler recalled that PwC employees had different reactions to Jean’s death based on their race.
“White employees were appalled and saddened, with some thinking that there might have been some justification,” Schuyler said. “By contrast, Black employees said the police would find some way to blame him for the shooting.”
It turned out those Black employees were right, and then some.
More than 600,000 workers, spread out across multiple states, participated in the Day of Understanding. That was another impressive legacy for Jean that was expected to bear fruit long into the future, Schuyler said.
“All of these people coming together to discuss diversity on the same day is a tipping point,” she noted.