Diversity Heroes: where are they now?

13 July 2017

Last year, Monica Forson won the Youth Award in Victoria’s Multicultural Awards for Excellence for her inspiring leadership as co-founder and President of the Afro-Australian Student Organisation.

Almost a year on, we caught up with the young Ghanaian-Australian to talk youth issues, volunteering in Fiji, and Zumba fever.

Last time we spoke you were helping to organise a forum for African and Pasifika youth. How did that go?

Well last year I joined the Sarah Myer Young Leaders Program through the Immigration Museum, and I mentored two younger cultural leaders – one from an African background, the other Pasifika. They realised their communities were going through similar issues, with young people feeling misunderstood by the police, and feeling like their voices weren’t being heard by government. Many of them also felt misrepresented in the media, seeing or reading something about their communities and saying “this doesn’t reflect who I am.”

So they decided to come together and put on this really amazing event called 50 Shades of Black, which blended music, art and fashion with talanoa (a word meaning “talk” or “discuss” in many Pacific Island languages). The Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Robin Scott, attended, and started a dialogue with each of the young leaders after the event. I think a lot of young people don’t realise that you can actually speak to government a lot more easily than you would expect, so I think the program demonstrated to them that their voices are powerful and the government is listening.

Your work with Pasifika communities hasn’t stopped there. We hear you’ve just returned from an assignment in Fiji with Australian Volunteers for International Development.

That’s right, I spent five months in Fiji as a fundraising mentor in the mental health sector as part of a youth pilot program. In this role I worked with four Fijian mental health NGOs* to support locally-identified fundraising goals. It was a lot of work and I’m really proud of what we were able to accomplish in a short amount of time. One of the highlights was a Zumba for Mental Health event. In Fijian culture, music and dance are the core of community life, and over the past few years, Zumba fever has taken over the nation. So we tried to capitalise on that and promote the idea that ‘there is not health without mental health’, and that really resonated with the Fijian community. Plus, it was fun… I’ve never done so much Zumba in my entire life!

Last year you won the Youth Award at Victorian’s Multicultural Awards for Excellence. What effect did that have on you?

Winning the award was really incredible. I had an outpouring of support on social media, people calling me, congratulating me at work, which was very humbling for me. As a result of this award I was invited to speak at another Victorian Multicultural Commission event, which in turn lead to a company approaching me about supporting the organisation I co-founded, The Afro-Australian Student Organisation (AASO). This company wants to hire more culturally diverse staff to reflect the community they work in, and we’re in talks about their professionals mentoring African students, which is really exciting. So winning this award has led to increased awareness of AASO and some really important possibilities for social change.

That’s fantastic! So what’s next for you, and for AASO?

Now that I’m back from Fiji, I want to continue working in the community development sector and working with diverse communities. I recently joined the board of the Brimbank Community Soccer Hub, which gives newly arrived migrants and refugees access to soccer competitions and facilities. The program has brought together a number of informal groups who had been playing casually, and they are now being equipped with the skills to start their own club and join mainstream competitions. It was established in collaboration with community leaders, local government and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, and I feel extremely privileged to be part of it.

As for AASO, I’ve stepped down as President, but I love the fact that there are other young people taking a lead and talking about African youth issues. I feel like AASO’s slowly changing the narrative about African youth. Despite how we are often spoken about in the media, there are so many young African Australians doing big things and positively contributing to society.

Nominations for the 2017 Multicultural Awards for Excellence close at midnight, Monday 21 August 2017.

Find out more about the Youth Award and submit a nomination at multicultural.vic.gov.au.

*Non-Government Organisations.

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