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Voices Against Racism: Stories of Courage and Resilience

Voices Against Racism: Stories of Courage and Resilience

Voices of courage and resilience play an important role in addressing racism. On Friday 19th of April 2024, Advanced Diversity Services (ADS) partnered with City of Sydney Council to facilitate a conversation recognising the actions of individuals and community organisations in standing up against racial discrimination. This powerful event was one of six events in the City of Sydney Council’s Social Cohesion Program titled ‘Voices Against Racism’ and took place in the St Helen’s Community Centre in Glebe.

The conversation centred on the voices of Salvin Kumar and Rubina Huq, former ADS workers, who shared their own personal and workplace experiences of racism and the actions they took for racial justice.

Salvin shared his experience of encountering blatant racism whilst enjoying a leisurely evening in Darling Harbour with his partner and their friend. Despite his usual confidence, Salvin was left feeling shocked by the derogatory remarks and implicit biases. He froze and found he was unable to assert himself in the moment –  a common response to trauma that highlights the immediate impact of racism on mental health and wellbeing. Salvin also expanded on the complex intersectionality of different forms of discrimination and the validation and comfort he received from friends and colleagues standing in solidarity with him. His decision to report the incident and file a complaint exemplified the importance of taking action for systemic change. 

Salvin Kumar bravely sharing his personal experience of racism and the actions they took for racial justice.

Rubina recounted a disturbing incident where abusive, hateful and hurtful slurs were directed at a group of Bangladeshi families attending a parenting session she was facilitating. Despite the distressing encounter, Rubina and her group remained calm. She immediately reported the incident to both ADS and the event hosts. The debrief process, with both those involved and with the ADS leadership team, was also an important part of the process of standing against racism and supporting one another.

‘We educated ourselves about the impact of racism.  And how silence only serves to continue it.’

These personal narratives served as powerful reminders of the pervasive nature of racism and its detrimental effects on individuals and communities, as well as its impact on social cohesion. Unfortunately, they have not been the only incidents reported to ADS.

Magdaline Shenton-Kaleido, Settlement and Community Services Manager for ADS, shared the critical role of ADS in initiating organisational responses to disrupt racism, including the importance of locally focused anti-racism interventions targeting hotspots. Supported by Western Sydney University’s Challenging Racism Project (CRP), ADS delivered four bystander training workshops to its networks and communities.

Magdaline Shenton-Kaleido, Settlement and Community Services Manager for ADS, speaking about the critical role of ADS in initiating organisational responses to disrupt racism.

Recognising the urgent need for further action, ADS once again stepped up in late 2023 and organised a community forum in response to escalating reports of racism and harassment, particularly targeting women wearing hijab and their children, following the onset of the Israel-Gaza conflict. The forum provided a safe space for affected communities to share experiences and raise awareness, address knowledge gaps and together explore strategies for responding to harassment.

In the face of rising instances of racism and discrimination, events like ‘Voices Against Racism’ play a crucial role in fostering dialogue and empowering individuals and communities to take action. Key messaging included:

  • It is everyone’s responsibility to call out racism when we see or experience it.
  • If you witness someone being racially targeted in public, stand in solidarity with them and check if they’re feeling safe.  
  • Recognise, Respond, Record and Report racism and hate crimes.

Attendees empathised with Rubina and Salvin, shared their own experiences of racism and discrimination, acknowledged the damaging impacts of structural racism and its relation to inequity, and requested further information and resources, particularly regarding bystander intervention training. 

The conversation highlighted the importance of critical thinking when using social media, especially because when abused, it can ignite racism and spread false news and fear. It also emphasised the need to call out explicit and implicit forms of bias and discrimination, even in awkward situations when we witness it within our families and friend circles.

Attendees shared their own experiences of racism and discrimination, encouraged by the bravery of speakers Salvin Kumar and Rubina Huq (seated front left).

Inspired by Rubina’s call to action, ‘We must all work together to create a world where everyone feels welcomed and valued, regardless of their race or ethnicity. Let’s continue to spread love, understanding, and acceptance, and kick out racism for good.’

ADS extends sincere thanks to the City of Sydney for the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to combating hotspots of racism and for providing a space for two amazing speakers to share their lived experiences.

By amplifying voices of courage and resilience, we can work towards building a safer, more inclusive and equitable society for all.

Community forum broaches how to combat escalating racism

Community forum broaches how to combat escalating racism

Reports of increased racism and harassment in the local community since the recent eruption of the Israel-Gaza war prompted a community forum held at Rockdale Library on December 15.

The Responding to Racism forum was organised by Advance Diversity Services (ADS), Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ), and The Challenging Racism Project (Western Sydney University) and attracted 56 participants – all eager to discuss how to combat escalating racism in their local areas.

Joumana Nassour, an Arabic language and community worker and broadcaster for Ahlul-beit Radio, shared her recent experience of racism and highlighted the need for a community response. Ms Nassour is one of several Muslim women in the St George Area who have been verbally attacked while wearing hijab, and who have begun to fear for their own and their children’s safety.

Executive Director of the Islamophobia Register Sharara Attai said there had been a 13-fold increase in reports of Islamophobia since October 7 – with reports of arson at mosques, death threats, videos inciting violence and intimidation on the road.

‘We are seeing an alarming level of Islamophobia with many members of the Australian Muslim community feeling very scared and anxious for their safety. It is devastating that at a time when many members of the Australian Muslim community are already deeply affected by the horrors of what is occurring in Gaza, they are also having to deal with increasing hostility here at home.’

Ms Attai said that at no time in its nine-year history of operations, had the Register received such a large number of incident reports in such a short space of time, including during ‘peak’ reporting periods such as in the aftermath of the Christchurch terror attacks which saw a four-fold increase of reports.

Magdaline Shenton-Kaleido, Settlement and Community Services Manager for ADS, said the forum aimed to provide opportunities for local services and community to:

  • lessen gaps in their knowledge and understanding of racism and how it presents
  • respond to harassment when they see it
  • know where and how to reach out for help when they experience it, and
  • ensure transparency of response from key support services
Forum organisers were pleased participants felt the event provided a safe and inclusive space for discussing issues related to addressing racism in the community.

Expert panellists probe responses to racism

Zarlasht Sarwari from the Challenging Racism Project moderated the expert panel that included:

  • Gillian Stokie and Bernice Kamikazi – DCJ / Anti-Discrimination NSW
  • Dr Rhonda Itaoui – Centre for Western Sydney
  • Joanna Mackay and Robert Beazley – NSW Police, Hate Crime Engagement Unit
  • Sharara Attai – Islamophobia Register
  • Dr Yasser Mohammed, a Mental Health Practitioner and Occupational Therapist

Speakers all emphasised that knowing how to identify and disrupt racism in the community was important.

Joanna Mackay said the Hate Crime Engagement Unit had been established because Hate crime victims sometimes felt fearful of having a negative experience with the police, and Hate crimes and incidents were seriously underreported.

From talking with community groups, she said she’d found many people were unaware they could report Hate crimes and incidents. But reporting was important, she explained, even if the report didn’t result in a charge, because it helped paint a larger picture of what was happening in local areas, showed patterns of behaviour the unit could address, and could also act as a deterrent.

Asked during the Q&A whether police at the frontline were trained to pick up nuances of racism and distil the correct information, Ms Mackay said part of her unit’s program was to educate police officers about the complexity of the issues through training in both metropolitan and regional areas.

Panelists emphasised that knowing how to identify and disrupt racism in the community was important.

Racism, religion and place

Dr Rhonda Itaoui said that Centre for Western Sydney research showed that in 2105, 62 per cent of people in the Sutherland Region were unlikely to respond to the threat of racism.

There was also a correlation between racism and religious affiliation, she said, making Western Sydney a hotspot for racism with 71.2 percent of its population professing religious affiliation, which was contrary to the overall Australian trend.

Dr Itaoui said racism was fluid in nature and specific to historical, cultural, geographic and political contexts. She also said racial attitudes were both shaped by place, and shaped experiences of places. To advance inclusion, she said, there was a need for social planning strategies and policies as well as locally focused anti-racism interventions that confront hotspots.

Speakers all agreed with Sharara Attai who used four ‘Rs’ to emphasise that people have a responsibility to Recognise, Respond, Record and Report racism, whether as a victim or a bystander, and to reach out to the many services that support anti-racism.

Given the immediate and ongoing trauma racism can cause, Ms Shenton-Kaleido said it had been important to include Yasser Mohammed’s presentation on mental health (and the transgenerational trauma of Palestinian residents of Jordan), and to make mental health contacts and resources available in a variety of languages both at and after the forum.

‘There are many supports available when we experience or witness racism, and our forum revealed just how crucial it is for people to reach out for help and find support when they need it.’

The forum explored the global geopolitical context to see how it impacts on racism in Australia.

Feedback and next steps

ADS and other organisers were pleased with forum feedback, Ms Shenton-Kaleido said, which showed participants felt it provided a safe and inclusive space for discussing issues related to addressing racism in the community. People also had ample time for networking and to ask further questions of speakers over the lunch provided by the DCJ.

In terms of next steps …

Having heard that the Islamophobia Register’s preliminary media analysis report showed five out of six media outlets demonstrated a lack of balance in covering the Israel-Gaza war, one participant requested that any future community forum address the difference between biased speech that creates hate and freedom of speech and how to legally hold media outlets accountable.

When asked ‘How can we stop politicians from continuing behaviour that incites divisiveness and hate speech?’, participants said organisations and individuals should:

  • Stop hosting politicians and supporting local members who are not listening to the community.
  • Remind politicians and other leaders they have a responsibility to do the right thing by the community.
  • Encourage leaders to engage more deeply with the local Muslim- /Arabic-speaking community.

‘Ultimately, what we hope is that people feel more confident to report racism to authorities and institutions and that, when people do make a report, these bodies respond effectively and with proper understanding, protection and support for victims and witnesses,’ said Ms Shenton-Kaleido.

‘We also look forward to providing more opportunities for people in the community and organisations like DCJ and the NSW Police Hate Crime Engagement Unit to come together to discuss next steps for stamping out racism in our society.’

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To learn more about the forum, responding to racism or resources available please contact Magdaline on (02) 9597 5455 or E: magdalines@advancediversity.org.au

Mahzad Zakipoor: ‘My resolve to effect meaningful change has only grown stronger’

Mahzad Zakipoor: ‘My resolve to effect meaningful change has only grown stronger’

Mahzad (Mazzie) Zakipoor completed her student placement with ADS from June 30 to November 17, 2023. She says ADS’s steadfast support not only facilitated her personal and professional growth but also allowed her to make tangible contributions to the success of several important community projects.

What drew you to do your student placement with ADS?

I was initially attracted to ADS because of my sincere dedication to supporting marginalised communities, particularly the LGBTQA+ population. What intrigued me about ADS is its renowned commitment to providing exceptional assistance and resources for individuals from diverse backgrounds. This resonated deeply with me as I aspire to positively enhance the wellbeing of those who confront difficulties about their sexual orientation or gender identity.

What are you studying and where?

I’m pursuing my Master of Social Work (qualifying) at the University of Wollongong. As an international student and newcomer, my diverse background and experiences bring a unique perspective to my engagement with ADS. I have always been driven by a deep desire to collaborate closely with CALD communities, and this opportunity has proven invaluable in realising that ambition.

Mazzie Zakipoor (right) with ADS CEO Antoinette Chow on Wear it Purple Day.

How has your personal history and/or your cultural background informed your work with ADS?

 My personal history and cultural background have profoundly impacted my journey with ADS. As an international student, I understand the challenges and struggles migrants face when adjusting to life in a new country. This empathy and cultural awareness have allowed me to connect deeply with the people I assist, breaking down barriers and fostering trust.

What ADS programs have you assisted with and how have you been encouraged to apply your studies and/or expand your skills in your role?

One significant highlight was my involvement in revising the Multicultural LGBTIQA+ Support Directory and adding new support providers for disabled individuals. This experience provided me with a unique opportunity to enhance my skills in community outreach, establish meaningful connections, and efficiently organise resources.

I actively participated in several community projects, including MID (Migrant Information Day), Wear It Purple Day, Multicultural Women’s Hub, and the Ukrainian Wellbeing Program. These initiatives have deepened my understanding of various community needs and allowed me to contribute meaningfully to the wellbeing of different groups.

In the context of ADS programs, the organisation consistently encouraged me to apply the theoretical knowledge from my academic studies to practical situations. Support from ADS has not only facilitated my personal and professional growth but has also allowed me to make tangible contributions to the success of these community projects. I am genuinely grateful for the opportunities ADS provided and its impact on my journey.

Mazzie provided invaluable support to the Multicultural Women’s Hub. 

What has been the most challenging work you have done with ADS during your time as a student on placement?

One of the most demanding aspects was confronting the distressing narratives of discrimination and bias shared by members of the LGBTQA+ community. This emotional burden, however, reinforced my resolve to effect positive change in their lives. I was really proud to coordinate the Wear it Purple Day (WIPD) celebration at ADS this year.

What strengths have you brought to your placement?

I have always taken great pride in demonstrating empathy and active listening when interacting with others. This attitude has enabled me to foster deeper connections with the individuals I have collaborated with, ensuring their unique needs are thoroughly understood and effectively addressed. I always try to establish a comfortable environment wherein individuals feel empowered to express themselves while seeking solace or guidance.

What has been your proudest moment, greatest achievement, deepest connection in your time at ADS?

One of my most notable accomplishments was actively participating in the revision and enhancement process of the Multicultural LGBTIQA+ Support Directory. This particular undertaking holds immense significance to me as it emphasises diversity and inclusiveness and is crucial for disseminating valuable resources to individuals requiring assistance. I achieved a significant milestone by engaging in this project which is an initiative that celebrates multiculturalism while promoting support and fostering inclusivity within the LGBTIQA+ community.

‘Be You With Us’ is ADS’s tagline, and it reflects the organisation’s commitment to welcoming and accepting everyone of all ages, gender, culture, sexuality, and religious beliefs. How have you been encouraged to ‘Be You With Us’ during your time with ADS?

ADS’s tagline, ‘Be You With Us,’ exemplifies ADS’s unwavering dedication to fostering inclusivity. Throughout my journey, ADS has played a pivotal role in empowering me to fully embrace and celebrate my authentic self by providing an environment that wholeheartedly accepts individuals for who they are. Within this safe space, anyone – regardless of age, gender, cultural background, sexual orientation or religious affiliation – is warmly welcomed and genuinely valued. Through their support and encouragement, I have grown confident enough to express myself even when doubtful.’

The Building LGBTIQA+ Inclusion Forum at Hurstville Library on June 8.

What more should the Australian Government be doing to welcome migrants and refugees and to ensure they find the support they need to adjust quickly and well to life in Australia?

I can’t answer this one in a nutshell. The Australian Government can significantly enhance support for migrants and refugees by providing improved access to language programs, employment opportunities, and cultural integration initiatives that would aid newcomers’ rapid and successful adjustment to life in Australia. Moreover, facilitating employment opportunities for economic independence through targeted initiatives such as networking events or mentorship programs.

Promoting cultural integration should also be a fundamental objective of government policies to support migrants and refugees. Encouraging intercultural understanding among diverse communities not only fosters social cohesion but also helps facilitate mutual respect, which leads to an inclusive society where everyone feels valued.

What is your ultimate goal and how has the work you’ve done with ADS equipped you for what you would like to do next?

I am deeply committed to furthering the cause of marginalised communities and fostering a sense of inclusivity. Through my experience at ADS, I have gained indispensable expertise, acquired extensive knowledge, and developed an empathetic understanding of the obstacles encountered by individuals from diverse backgrounds. My resolve to effect meaningful change in the lives of others has only grown stronger.

Please finish this sentence: I love ADS because … its supportive and friendly members create an inclusive and welcoming space for everyone.

Mazzie staffing the ADS stall on MID (Migrant Information Day).
ADS is equipping people to understand the referendum and The Voice

ADS is equipping people to understand the referendum and The Voice

Advance Diversity Services (ADS) is playing a pivotal role in equipping community service providers and their clients in the region to understand the upcoming referendum about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament.

‘With such a high proportion of people from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds in the St George and Sutherland region, we’re keen to ensure people really understand what the Voice to Parliament involves and how they can participate knowledgeably in the referendum,’ said Manager, Emerging Communities, Settlement and Community Services, Magdaline Shenton-Kaleido.

‘A powerful first step is to acquaint people with the history of the Uluru Statement from the Heart and its key message to ask Australians to support meaningful constitutional recognition through providing a First Nations’ voice in parliament.’

Ms Shenton-Kaleido said she and ADS Community Development Officer Shyama Sri had attended Walking Together training run by Youth Off the Streets in March.

‘The training aims to give people from all cultural backgrounds the tools they need to walk with First Nations Australians in unity and it boosted our capacity and confidence,’ she said.

‘Next we invited Bridget Cama to speak about the Uluru statement and the referendum at a full ADS team meeting on April 4.

‘Ms Cama is a Wiradjuri Pasifika Fijian woman, Co-Chair of the Uluru Youth Dialogue, an associate of the Indigenous Law Centre at UNSW and legal support to the Uluru Dialogue.

‘Bridget’s session with staff was so informative and engaging the Leadership team approached the ADS board to endorse the We Support the Uluru Statement tag, in all our email signatures.’

The Uluru Statement from the Heart was a grassroots community process – the culmination of 13 regional dialogues held across Australia on the question of constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and issued to the Australian public on May 25, 2017. It is available in 82 different languages.

ADS is working with The Uluru Dialogue to get a variety of resources and information about the referendum translated into international languages – with Greek, Macedonian, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Maltese, Cantonese and Mandarin high on the list.

ADS also hopes to produce a simple Uluru Dialogue presentation which incorporates the referendum question to be voted on, and then to have it translated, which will mean the ADS Aged Care and Settlement teams can use it when talking with their community groups.

Another way ADS has opened up discussion about Indigenous issues and cultural knowledge has been through holding Indigenous Bush Tucker Tours for new arrivals on Harmony Day in March and during Refugee Week in June. 

On March 22, guided by the Sutherland Shire Council’s Aboriginal Heritage Officer, clients from ADS and Gymea Aid and Information Service walked through the Joseph Banks Native Plants Reserve in Kareela and were introduced to Aboriginal food and different medicinal plants. A second walk, on June 23, was booked to capacity.

‘These tours give our new arrivals and our other clients insight into the oldest continuing living culture in the world,’ said Ms Shenton-Kaleido. ‘They also offer a glimpse of the richness and diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures in Australia, which is something we should all take pride in.’

Forum to equip community sector workers

ADS is part of the Working Together Forum, which is offering a free workshop at TAFE NSW St George on June 29 to help equip sector workers with information about the referendum process and how to incorporate this information into their service delivery.

‘We’ve invited Bridget Cama to present and also to facilitate a short professional development activity for the audience of service providers based in the Sutherland Shire and St George areas working with CALD and newly arrived migrants who are eligible to vote,’ said Ms Shenton-Kaleido.

‘We organised this forum to help people inform themselves about the Uluru Statement and what it asks of our nation and also to create respectful spaces for talking about the impact a First Nations Voice will make.’

Ms Shenton-Kaleido said some important facts about the referendum and the Voice include:

  • The question to be put to the Australian people at the 2023 referendum will be: ‘A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. Do you approve this proposed alteration?’
  • The referendum requires a majority of votes in a majority of Australian states to succeed. If the vote is successful, Parliament will then design the Voice via legislation.
  • We are not voting on a particular model – we are voting on the principle that Indigenous Australians should be able to provide advice to the government.
  • The Parliament will decide the structure and composition after a successful referendum. This is normal procedure for referendums.
  • A constitutionally enshrined Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice could be re-shaped but not abolished.

Ms Shenton-Kaleido also said, ‘The Uluru Statement is an invitation given by First Nations people to the people of Australia and a chance for our nation to confront the truth of our past and present, and make way for justice.

‘A constitutionally enshrined Voice will shape and guide the relationship between First and Second peoples in this country by enabling people to have a say in the decisions that impact our communities.’

Want to know more about the referendum and Uluru Statement the Heart?

See the statement here https://ulurustatement.org/the-statement/

See https://yes23.com.au/

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