Meet Nelson Deng: Transforming the Narrative

Nelson Kur Deng has an antidote to the mainstream media’s vilification of African-Australian communities: positive stories

There are so many great and positive things happening in our community that don't get seen by the mainstream,” he says. “Instead, we all get bundled together under this negative stereotype.

A graduate of both the Master of Social Policy and Master of Criminology, Deng is in the business of making positive stories. While completing his Master of Criminology he worked as a community liaison officer for the Brotherhood of St Laurence.

Among other things, Deng works as a project officer for law firm Lander & Rogers. He has a leading role in the implementation of the South Sudanese Business Response.

The initiative aims to leverage Lander & Rogers' business and personal networks to provide work experience, internships, mentoring and work readiness for South Sudanese-Australian young people. Unemployment is a key issue facing the community, says Deng.

"Most of these young people, even those who have graduated and have skills, are still finding it very, very hard to find employment in their fields," he says.

The 'it's-all-about-who-you-know' model of gaining work experience is of particular disservice to these young people.

"A lot of these corporations ask for experience and because our clients are less likely to have connections to employers, it's very hard for them to get the same experience opportunities," he explains.

Deng came to Australia from East Africa in 2005 under a humanitarian visa, and completed all of his secondary and tertiary studies in Melbourne.

The overrepresentation of the African-Australian community in the criminal justice system was one of the factors driving him to study criminology.

"Criminology and law have always been my passions. I just want to understand crime causation and prevention - why people commit crimes and what the causes are. I could see a lot of young kids going through difficulties with the criminal justice system, and that situation is even worse now," he says.

As the South Sudanese community is forced to deal with harmful representations from the media and government, including the fear-mongering rhetoric of 'African gangs', Deng urges people to go out into the community, form relationships and make up their own minds.

Another important step to destigmatisation lies in self-representation: Deng looks forward to the day when the South Sudanese-Australian community is better represented in the media, in government and in policy-making.

"It's really important to have community members in decision-making roles, because the policy affects us. So for me to do this work that I'm doing, to understand crime and the way it affects my community – my newly emerging community – that is really important."