On Advancing Racial Justice with Sarah Ibrahim

An insightful interview with Sarah Ibrahim, our 2024 Community Hero Award Winner.

Sarah Ibrahim is the founder and Executive Director of the Racial Justice Centre and Principal Director of Central Lawyers. Sarah has been awarded our annual Smokeball Community Hero Award 2024. Among her many achievements, Sarah facilitated the first Racial Justice Conference in Sydney this past April, fostering essential conversations and collaborations to advance racial justice.

We recently spoke to Sarah about what drives her work at the Racial Justice Centre, the challenges she has faced, and what the legal industry can do to pursue racial justice, equity, and equality for everyone.


Congratulations Sarah on being the Smokeball Community Hero 2024 Award Winner! What does winning this award mean to you? Any plans on how you will use your travel voucher?

I feel very grateful to have won! It means there's recognition for the pro bono services I give back to the community. I feel honoured. As for the travel voucher, I've been wanting to travel overseas, especially to Egypt where I was born. My youngest daughter often looks at photos of her sister, her dad and I visiting the Pyramids and feels left out. I hope to take her to these wonderful wonders of our world and connect her to her cultural heritage.

Tell us a little bit about why you founded the Racial Justice Centre (RJC). What is your “why”?

It was clear to me that Australia acts as if we're post-race, not addressing racism meaningfully. There are centres for various protected categories, such as disability, women, intellectual disability, HIV, and elder people but none focused on race. I knew from personal experience that we weren't past this issue. The RJC aims to fill this gap, though it's a massive project and we need as much support from the community, government and philanthropy to bring the full vision to life.

What has been the most rewarding and challenging aspect of the work you do at RJC?

The most rewarding aspect is achieving wins for people who couldn't get help elsewhere. Actively listening and reframing their stories within a legal context is empowering for them. Our recent Racial Justice Conference felt particularly special, creating a sense of community where so many people felt seen, heard and understood. The two most testing parts are the lack of proper funding despite it being so clear there is a general unmet need in the community and also the nature of the work is very challenging these are difficult topics and major societal issues to be addressed, which can be personally testing particularly during these internationally dystopic times.

What has been your most memorable matter to date?

A memorable case was for Pauline Weldon-Bowen. We didn’t win, but Pauline felt a weight lifted off her shoulders, achieving a sense of accountability and exposure. This lightened her load, allowing her to focus on what’s important. Many moments from the Racial Justice Conference will also stay with me.


What do you think the most common challenge is in the legal profession now? Is there an underlying theme?

The legal landscape often focuses on gender but not race and in fact the WGEA the Workplace Gender Equality Agency run by the Federal Government doesn’t break down the data for ethnic and racial pay gaps because it fails to ask the necessary questions. Discussions about race are less common, and the experiences of women of colour are often overlooked. Elevating how race intersects, gender, intersects with law and quality of life is essential to ensuring access to justice and necessary resources.

You have made a significant impact in the community. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most good to the most people, what would that be?

This is what I strive to do. My goal is to inspire a movement where everyone recognizes that we are all part of the human race, and equal in our humanity. Every person’s life matters. Every life is precious. We know that pre-maturely dying whether in genocide, in conflict, by suicide, at the hands of the state or because of poor health are all intertwined with racism. We want a beautiful healthy planet where everyone can live, thrive reach their full potential and generally have an amazing standard of living that enables them to enjoy life.

Do you have any book or podcast recommendations that have inspired you to make a difference?

I’m always surrounded by books, though I haven’t read them all! One book I repeatedly return to is *Another Day in the Colony* by Chelsea Watego. It highlights the deep-seated racism faced by First Nations Australians. I highly recommend it. One quote that resonates with me is, “Having to be better at all things has not offered any sense of freedom or hope, respite or relief, it has been tiring... I will still cling to the idea that I can outthink this thing called Race.”

What is the best way for us to continue to follow yourwork online?

To keep up with our work, follow us on LinkedIn and Instagram and visit our website. Please consider being a regular giver and donate to us monthly as we need public support to continue our efforts. Donations are crucial for our sustainability.

LinkedIn: Connect with Sarah Ibrahim



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May 30, 2024