(DALLAS OBSERVER) — Friends and family, politicians both foreign and domestic, as well as supporters of every stripe, all donned the color red and converged on the Renaissance Dallas Hotel on what would have been Botham Jean’s 28th birthday. Red was his favorite color.
“He lived his life in such a way that he still has a lasting impact on us because we’re still singing the songs that Botham taught us,” the Rev. Sammie Berry said Sunday evening during the inaugural “Red Tie” fundraiser in support of the Botham Jean Foundation.
The foundation was set up in order to continue supporting the charitable causes the 27-year-old St. Lucia native championed in life. The event was a refreshing celebration amidst a tragic story featuring live performances from local musicians Richmond Punch and Terri Jackson, as well as countless remembrances from those who held Botham close to heart.
“Botham, he was the reason I did all the things, he’s the reason I’ve been working so hard this year on my engineering career, he’s the reason I started going to the gym, he’s the reason I love Whataburger,” Brandt Jean, Botham’s brother, said in a speech that was part stand-up routine, part eulogy. “He made me the best person I could be. He makes me right now want to be better and I couldn’t ask for any other brother. I’m just thankful that he was able to influence other people than me and because of it we’re here today. If it wasn’t for the things he did, we wouldn’t have anything to appreciate right now.”
Since its inception earlier this year, the Botham Jean Foundation has already provided scholarships to local students, funding for children and adolescent social services in St. Lucia, and in May Botham’s mother, Allison Jean, pledged to cover funeral expenses for Pamela Turner, a Texas woman who was killed in an altercation with police. Near the end of the evening, Shaun King, a political activist and journalist, stated the event’s fundraising goal matter-of-factly. Onstage, he told the crowd he was asked to raise $50,000.
“I got a return ticket back to Brooklyn. So I’m leaving tomorrow, but I’m not leaving until we raise the $50,000. I’m not going to ask people to lock the doors, that is a thing,” Shaun King said, eliciting laughter from some in the crowd. “I would say this [however], many of us speak about the change we want and I believe we want, but in the Bible it says where your treasure is, where your money is, there your heart is also. So I’m just saying that your heart for change has to match your budget for change. And if you don’t have a budget for it, I question whether or not you have the heart for it.“
Shaun then apologized before telling the entire ballroom to take out their phones and pull up the donations page of the Botham Jean Foundation website. He then began asking people to raise their hands and contribute tier by tier, requesting donations from $10,000 and $500 until the goal was reached. The high-pressure tactic was seemingly ill-advised amidst allegations made in September concerning Shaun’s fundraising history (to which he has responded.) Nevertheless, Botham’s death has undeniably sent ripples through communities in Dallas and beyond.
Stephenson King, former Prime Minister of St. Lucia and no relation to Shaun King, was in attendance as well. Botham’s mother worked with Stephenson King during his term in office, while acting as St. Lucia’s permanent secretary in the Ministry of Infrastructure, Port Services & Transport. He says he came to the event to fulfill a promise made to Allison.
“I believe St. Lucia gave to this country a young man of dedication and commitment to serve people not only of St. Lucia but people of the world,” Stephenson King said. “St. Lucia gave a son to this country, St. Lucia gave a brother to this country, St. Lucia gave a leader to this country, St. Lucia gave a potential prime minister to this country, they took his life. And so I join Allison in saying let us transform pain to power. Let us join her in her efforts to bring consciousness of mutual respect, mutual love and peace to all on the surface of this world.”