Meet Jamal Elsheikh, co-founder of One Love Australia and a man on a mission to make real change.
What is One Love Australia?
We’re an anti-racism education company that works with younger generations to help them understand racism and its impact on people’s lives. We aim to empower all people to feel comfortable to talk about racism and enact the change they want to see in the world.
What made you create One Love Australia?
One Love Australia was born from the aftermath of the Christchurch Terror attacks in 2019 - there was something about that attack and seeing the footage of the gunman that triggered all the memories from my childhood attack. It was a turning point for me personally, and the beginning of my journey to facing everything I’d kept bottled up.
Can you share a little about your childhood?
My father was a diplomat for Sudan - so I spent a lot of my childhood moving around - I guess I’m what they call a “Third Culture Kid” (from everywhere and nowhere). I grew up in 13 countries and studied in over seven schools as well as doing home tutoring. I was always very conscious of the colour of my skin because no matter where I went people always talked about, often not positively.
My mother passed away when I was about six years old, and my education often meant that I spent time away from my only brother because it was not always possible to complete various aspects of schooling in the same country. So I had to develop a fairly independent mindset from a young age.
Experiencing the world from different perspectives at a young age allowed me to see the world from complete opposite extreme ends. I learned to appreciate life, people and be thankful for anything. I guess it’s hard not to when your life changes in a few days like when your father is relocated from one of the top developed countries to the least developed countries.
There was a key event in my childhood that has shaped my identity today more so than others - and that’s when my brother and I were attacked in Turkey. It was a racially motivated attack where I was stabbed in the neck, and my brother hit over the head with a brick. I didn’t talk about this for a long time - over 15 years.
Racism is something people don’t like to talk about. Why is it so important to change this?
Something we identified from our early work is that we seem to have lost the art of conversation in today’s society. We tend to preach or lecture people as a means of changing their point of view - this isn’t very impactful in making change. Unfortunately, racism has become a politicised issue in recently times, so I think it’s important that we take a step back and look at how we can talk about the issue in a meaningful way. Understanding the different types of racism is important - the name-calling and blatant racist remarks are only the surface level. Casual and structural racism are more challenging to educate people on, but they’re the ones that can make a difference to minority lives in Australia (and the world).
How does One Love Australia work in schools?
One of the biggest challenges in schools is empowering teachers to feel comfortable in talking about racism - this is why we’ve produced an online course that teachers can use to upskill their knowledge. We also do workshops and speaking within schools for the students too - we focus on lived experiences which help in creating understanding for kids. Something that’s consistent across all of our education is that we meet people where they are in the journey. We’re not trying to judge people, we’re just trying to start conversations.
How can we as parents help to stamp out racism.
I think the most important thing is to be educated - make sure that you’re not just sharing random facts online about racism. Check the sources and be informed, a lot of people share information that isn’t true - and regardless of whether it’s anti-racist in sentiment or not, it doesn’t help. We also encourage talking to your kids school about it. Ask yourself do the teachers feel comfortable talking about racism? How do they handle racist incidents at the school?
How important is kindness in all of this?
Kindness is something that is hugely important when it comes to discussing racism. When you hear or see something that could be interpreted as racist - the kind thing to do is start an informed conversation about it. We often see things escalate into personal attacks - and this doesn’t really achieve anything other than creating more friction.
How did you get yourself to a place where you wanted to respond with kindness?
As someone whose dealt with racism my whole life this is my lived experience. If you respond with anger you get anger in return. This is not how you make change in the world - it’s how you create an uprising, but it’s not how to create meaningful change.
What has working in One Love Australia taught you about other people?
People have different upbringings and circumstances in their lives. You have to meet them where they are in their journey. Sometimes they’re not ready to engage with you, but at some point they might be.
What gives you hope?
As a society we’ve come a long way in the past few years and although there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done, I’m very confident that a change is going to come, and it will come from the next generation. I guess what gives me a sense of hope is that I've worked closely with the next generation and they’re so keen on making the world a better place. I look at that and I say to myself, the world is in safe hands.
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Image Supplied/ ABC Life: Luke Tribe