As we approach International Women's Day on March 8, National Indigenous Times is spotlighting the stories of strong, powerful Blak women across the country.
In a little building in Sydney's inner west sits Deadly Connections, an Aboriginal community-led not-for-profit organisation that acts to disrupt cycles of trauma and address the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in child protection and justice systems.
Operating for less than three years, the organisation began in the home of husband-and-wife duo, Carly Stanley and Keenan Mundine. Managing two bubs at home, the pair had their work cut out for them but have built a well-respected organisation that makes a difference.
Stanley is proud Wiradjuri woman, a 2020 Churchill Fellow and an AMP Tomorrow Maker.
â" AMP Foundation (@AMPFoundation) October 15, 2020
Born and raised in the inner west, Stanley has vivid memories of family members interacting with the criminal justice system.
"My earliest memories of the justice system are the over-policing of our communities and my family. I remember going to visit my Uncle in correctional centres, seeing family members in police cells," said Stanley.
"At the time I didn't really understand it was like that for my family. I just accepted it as normal and that is how it is for everyone because that is all I knew."
Leaving school early, Stanley became a mother â" a role that grounded her.
"It grounded me at a young age, and it made me want more. It made me want to change the trajectory I knew, in terms of public housing, not working or studying," she said.
Stanley graduated from Eora College TAFE with a Diploma in Aboriginal Studies.
From there, she has held various roles across both government and non-government organisations. Although taking on serious positions, Stanley felt like her voice wasn't being heard.
At 28, she enrolled in a Bachelor of Social Studies with a focus in Criminology. From there, Stanley met her partner and supported him through his sentence.
"At that time, I was working for corrective services and they didn't want me to sponsor him, because of conflict of interest and all those risk-driven policies which are at the detriment to us because they don't cater to our cultural and community obligations," Stanley said.
She handed in her resignation and not long after, the pair created Deadly Connections.
The Deadly Connections family with their team-created artwork. Photo Supplied.
Both Stanley and Mundine have built the organisation from the core of their being. Focused on culture and lived experience, Deadly Connections makes a difference in a way no other organisation can.
"The best parts are those positive outcomes and the individual wins. One of the clients that we are supporting now is a 40-year-old man who is a Stolen Generations survivor. No service has been able to service him culturally appropriately, but since engaging with us we have gotten him a job," said Mundine.Â
"For 40 years he had convinced himself that no one cared ... I know what that feels like."
"Keeping mob inspired and keeping them on track is what makes this job for me."
Whilst other organisations over-cater, Deadly Connections focuses on capacity and skill building.
"There are families close to me that have had access to white NGOs for 15 years, three generations, and their quality of life is no better," said Mundine.
"We want this business to close, we don't want to profit off it, we don't want to build interstate or go national. We want our mob to know their rights, how to get their needs met and how to advocate for themselves without becoming violent and having the strength and courage to stand up and say no.
"That is capacity building and true self-determination."
Moving into 2021, the Deadly Connections team is focusing on healing and building spaces and circles where true healing can happen.
"Trauma affects anyone's chance of developing and coming out of their struggles. There isn't anywhere for our mob to go to heal," said Stanley.
Mundine notes that the healing work is part of his own journey.Â
"It is a part of me healing myself, as an individual, as a family man, a community member and a blackfulla in this society, I want to show them that it is okay to be vulnerable," said Mundine.
"It is okay to process these things that we aren't comfortable with and to be able to heal collectively."
Both Stanley and Mundine have a real understanding of the injustices that community face.
"Growing up in poverty, watching police, watching kids get removed, taking drugs, violence. None of that is normal, but it has been a practice within our community for so long that we readily accept these things," said Mundine.
"These are the things that hinder us and stop us from being in the same domain as other nationalities."
Stanley said support services are the missing factor.
"Other communities may experience these things but they have the resources to support one another through it. That is what we don't have," she said.
"There is no other cultural identity or group that experiences grief, loss and trauma at the rates that we do. Unless we heal, we are going to continue to hurt."
Driven by purpose and passion, Deadly Connections is fighting tooth and nail to make a real difference for community, disrupting cycles of trauma and incarceration and empowering healing journeys.
For more information, visit: https://www.deadlyconnections.org.au/.
By Rachael Knowles