Local Hero: Shaylene Black
The irony of being a white Indigenous woman whose surname is Black has not been lost on SHAYLENE BLACK. She has struggled to come to terms with other people’s perceptions of what being Aboriginal means.
“It was my own passion for the Indigenous culture that made me want to know more,” she says.
Shaylene was a foundation Year 7 student at Alkira Secondary College and the first Indigenous student to graduate. Her teachers express genuine admiration, praising her compassion, leadership skills and composure under pressure. Well-liked by her peers, she is respected as a defender of those who can’t defend themselves.
Shaylene participated in many firsts at Alkira: she was part of the first group that went to Snowy River Leadership School, the first group that went to China, and the first group to travel on the World Challenge Expedition to Vietnam, volunteering her time in an orphanage there. Sheylene received her Bronze Duke of Edinburgh award, was the first School Vice-Captain, and trained as one of the first Digital Demons (a student-led cyber bullying education program).
In 2013, Shaylene was mentored as part of the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME). She was encouraged to represent Alkira in The Other Election, a mock election offering Indigenous students in Year 11 from across Australia the opportunity to present the speech they would give if they were to become the first Indigenous Prime Minister. Sheylene addressed the very important issue of mental health, and ran second nationally.
Shaylene’s experience in The Other Election led to her nomination in the VMCA Victoria Youth Parliament in 2014. She was one of a team of six Indigenous students from across Victoria who worked together to develop a Bill, “Cultural awareness to be provided to professionals in the education, health and legal system”, drafted to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
Black was the last speaker, and her impassioned speech addressing racial discrimination in the workplace left people in the Chamber in tears. “The experience was eye-opening. I learnt a lot about myself. This is what I want to do, to speak out and share who I am, and who I am proud to be. Youth Parliament gave me the first glimpse of what it would look like.”
“As a mentee with AIME, I witnessed first hand that there are so many people just like me, in the same position as me in regards to the knowledge of our culture. Now I mentor other Indigenous high school students. I tell them that it’s okay not to know everything, it’s okay to stand up for who you are, and it’s definitely okay to show that to the world. It has been the most rewarding experience.”
Shaylene intends to continue her activism. “You get to show people what you stand for. I’m determined to be a voice for my culture and I plan to make those people proud.”
Shaylene Black was acknowledged as an Upstander with a Courage to Care Local Hero Award at the Cranbourne 2015 Exhibition.
Photo: courtesy Shaylene Black