IN DEPTH

Grace Williams talks human rights in Tasmania and the state's potential

Grace Williams. Picture: File
Grace Williams. Picture: File

Grace Williams is no stranger to making her voice heard.

Though her goal is hardly to put herself in the limelight, rather highlight the plight of people disempowered.

When she first emigrated to Tasmania from Ghana she was just eight-years-old, and from the moment she hit the ground she knew her experiences could be used for the greater good.

"I was always an activist," she said. "I always felt the need to create community and bring people out of loneliness."

Despite her tender years, her experiences in her home country had been imprinted so firmly on her brain she knew she had to share her story in order to help others - and carried through her education at Launceston College.

Her family fled civil war in Ghana, and Ms Williams said it was in the journey away from her home country that she discovered the power of perspective.

"I had experiences of statelessness and the insecurity of not knowing," she said.

Having a perspective like that really sets you up to appreciate and honour the people around you. You don't take things like water and food for granted.

Grace Williams

"I've got shoes on my feet, the water isn't infected with parasites."

Now aged 24, Ms Williams has built was she calls the "social infrastructure" around her to be a pillar within her community, and a pillar for change about the approach to human rights understanding in Tasmania.

In 2018 she released the film Citizen which explored the lives of 10 Tasmanians and shared their human rights stories.

She said more than anything the film enabled her to engage with the community she wants to aid.

It was not her first foray into championing human rights, and would not be her last.

Meanwhile, she was studying law at the University of Tasmania to turn her passion into reality and enable herself to "help people feel like their voice is heard".

Three years later Ms Williams is the director of Citizen Tasmania and is months away from finishing the degree, but even without her final piece of paper, she had already started working in the community.

Her definition of working is giving a voice to what human rights are, and pulling people along with her to embrace what the definition is.

"For me, the whole purpose of having human rights is so we can thrive and move beyond just surviving," Ms Williams said.

"And we have to embody that vision.

My goal is for people who have my background to be supported in their strengths and shown the resilience of what they have. That background of trauma has a huge amount of potential. These people have already been through intense amounts of life.

Grace Williams

Ms Williams said that perspective, when communicated effectively, could show that starting a business, undertaking a degree, or entering the workforce, paled in comparison to the journey they had already been through.

Friday is Australian Citizenship Day, and it will be the 20th time the day has been held. Ms Williams said the anniversary was significant. "For so long our history has been of Britain, and it was only in 1987 that we cut off constitutional ties with them," she said.

"Australia, as it is now, is still emerging and creating an identity - sharing stories and building our culture marks us stronger.

"It's about how we celebrate our citizenship so that we include more people."

Grace Williams. Picture: File

Grace Williams. Picture: File

And of Tasmania, Ms Williams believes the state could lead the way in showing the potential of what human rights mean to her and the people she supports.

"In Tasmania we've got such strong community ties and the potential to build amazing social infrastructures," she said.

"I love Tasmania because it's so unique and that environment has the ability to show people what social cohesion, respect and dignity look like. We can show what it looks like to be able to support one another.

Ms Williams will speak as part of a UTAS celebration for Australian Citizenship Day.

The event will be on Zoom and in-person at the Stanley Burbury Theatre in Sandy Bay from 2-3pm. Further details are available at utas.edu.au/events.

This story Why Tasmania might lead the way on human rights first appeared on The Examiner.