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Saturday, July 24, 2021

Celebrating Canberra’s culturally diverse community leaders

Accomplished Canberra community leaders Cindy Mitchell, Dion Devow and Francis Owusu were all moved by the recent Black Lives Matter protests.

“We’ve still got a long way to go, but I think there’s a different way people are looking at the things black people experience and what we have gone through,” Mr Devow said.

In light of those recent events, Canberra Weekly took time to celebrate the recent achievements of these outstanding local people of colour.

Originally from the USA, Ms Mitchell migrated to Australia in 2003.

After settling in Canberra, she founded the Mill House in 2016, a provider of business advisory services to help people take their social venture ideas to market.

“For me it’s always been head down, focusing on how I can make a difference,” she said.

In March, Ms Mitchell was named 2020 ACT Woman of the Year to recognise her work as a Canberra community leader through empowering women and girls by educating them to embrace entrepreneurship.

“I had these young women of colour coming up to me being like ‘we won’ … it’s been a bit overwhelming.

“For them, to just be able to have someone on the other side able to say ‘you can do this’, and to be there … I’m really blessed with the situation I’m in,” she said.

Canberra community leader Cindy Mitchell
In March Cindy Mitchell was named 2020 ACT Woman of the Year, recognising her work in empowering women and girls across Canberra by educating them to embrace entrepreneurship.

Owner of Indigenous clothing label, Darkies Design, Mr Devow has worked diligently in Indigenous affairs for over 25 years across health, education and justice.

Most recently he used his platform as a Canberra community leader to help developed a program to assist Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander children get into IT.

Working with Australian Strategic Policy Institute, they developed a pilot program for Indigenous youths between the ages of 9 and 13, called the Indigi-Cyber Camp.

The first event was held at Questacon in December last year, with 20 children from across the Canberra region attending. Mr Devow hopes to be able to roll out the program further across the country.

“I wasn’t given that opportunity when I was young … It’s all about exposing Indigenous Australian kids to IT so they can hopefully choose that career path, if they so want, further down the track,” he said.

Canberra community leader Francis Owusu
Since establishing Kulture Break in 2002, Francis Owusu has championed the well-being, transformation and empowerment of young people and the community through the venture.

Mr Owusu is the founder and CEO of not-for-profit dance-based social enterprise, Kulture Break.

Since its establishment in 2002, Mr Owusu has championed the wellbeing, transformation and empowerment of young people and the Canberra community through Kulture Break.

“We’ve used creativity as that platform to allow people to express themselves and feel included through cultural dance and music programs,” he said.

According to Mr Owusu, the pandemic shutdown has had a devastating effect on young people, something he has directly observed in his work at Kulture Break.

“Mental health is a massive thing. We advocate against social isolation and the message we’re telling people currently is to isolate, so it’s a very difficult thing for young people to understand,” he said.

As an African-Australian born to Ghanaian parents, Mr Owusu said the recent Black Lives Matter protests across the world have brought to light issues around racism that affect people of colour not just in the USA, but here in Australia too.

“Part of it is about acknowledging it … in Australia we take that ‘she’ll be right, it’s all good, we’re just kidding’, but it’s actually touching on some very close-to-home truths.

“You speak to any person of colour and they’ve got stories of where there’s been unconscious bias or it’s deliberately in your face.”

Ms Mitchell said the protests have brought about an “awakening” across the world to matters people of colour have known since they were children.

“The playing field isn’t level, and this is a moment that we needed to have happen,” she said.

Canberra community leader Dion Devow
Owner of Indigenous clothing label Darkies Design Dion Devow recently helped developed a program to help Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander children get into IT called Indigi-Cyber Camp.

Mr Devow said the protests have given people who aren’t of colour the opportunity to “stand up for what is right”.

“It’s the injustice that we experience because we are people of colour … We’re racially profiled because of the way we look.

“Followed around in stores, we’re asked if we have money before we get into a cab. Everyday things that you would not experience if you weren’t of colour,” Mr Devow said.

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