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.
Bundjalung and Kullilli woman Melissa Browning has been recognised at the national HESTA Impact Awards for her contribution to improving health equity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
The awards are a national celebration of health and community services professionals working to protect the future of the planet and its people.
Browning was a joint winner of the Individual Distinction Award for her work developing and implementing the Courageous Conversations About Race (CCAR) program at the Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service (GCHHS).
Having a career in health spanning just short of two decades, Browning is one of the only Aboriginal women at GCHHS who sits in a senior role. She is the current Coordinator for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health and has held that position for over a decade.
Browning notes a lot of the work she does today links back to growing up with a strong sense of right and wrong.
“I knew what is fair and right as a young child and I would always stand up for the underdog and would get in trouble! And that hasn’t stopped,” Browning told NIT.
Working in the health sector as long as she has, Browning has faced her fair share of adversity.
“I have often been called challenging. I like to reframe that and step away from the angry Blak woman trope,” she said.
“I’m not angry, I’m passionate. I do get framed as the challenging Blak woman because I do want to make that change, make that difference for my people.”
“Aboriginal women are constantly taking the brunt for our community, there are so many inspiring women that have gone before me that have inspired me to keep going in doing what I do. The reason I am doing this is for my people, for the future generations — that is what holds me.”
Browning’s CCAR program originates from the United States but she has worked to contextualise it to an Australian audience. The program aims to talk about racism in a safe space.
“Talking about race and racism is always very hard, but I think … to move forward we can’t not have those conversations,” she said.
Browning delivers it alongside two other women, one Indigenous and the other non-Indigenous.
“It is powerful to have both of them co-facilitate with me. Because when you talk to white people about white privilege and whiteness, you need a white person to lead that out,” she said.
“Those conversations don’t get listened to when it comes from a Blak woman or Blak person. But from a white person it is really heard and taken onboard.
“The power of that sisterhood across races, having Blak women and a white woman co-facilitate, that is the most powerful for me in this work, having them by my side.”
The program aims to reach people’s humanity and empathy.
“There are always tears in the program, which is a beautiful thing, they’re healing tears. We don’t get this opportunity just to sit and yarn about these things, so to hear about the experiences that Blak people have, and that fair-skinned Aboriginal people face is so eye-opening for white people,” Browning said.
“They haven’t had that opportunity to sit down and to see that.”
The program aims to give people the tools beyond the classroom to have tough conversations and move differently in the world.
“We do need to do more, but this [program] starts us, it gives us the tools and the ability to identify things and have those conversations,” she said.
“It is confronting and it’s challenging, there are big emotions as you go through the two days. I’ve been both a participant and facilitator. What drives me is seeing the change in staff … I know that this makes a difference in people and for people.
“This is a movement. Now is the time to have these conversations and interrogate our own white privilege.”
By Rachael Knowles