About the Foundation
About the Foundation
How it all began
Black Women's Action (BWA) began in the heady days of the 1970s, when four women sat around a table chatting, and decided to start an information group. Those women were Sue Chilli, Marcia Langton, Naomi Myers and Roberta Sykes.
The group began by publishing an Aboriginal community newspaper, Koori Bina, which later became AIM (Aboriginal and Islander Message). BWA taught students of the Aboriginal and Islander Dance Theatre the skills to publish a small community newspaper; literacy, reporting, creative writing, editing, lay-out and administration, which eventually lead to the students taking over its publication.
Over time, BWA broadened its work and funded a number of small enterprises that were established by Aboriginal women.
In 1979, BWA raised the funds for Roberta Sykes to attend Harvard University when no government funds were forthcoming. In 1984, Roberta Sykes graduated from Harvard as the first black Australian to graduate from an American university. Roberta then returned to Australia to take up the reins of BWA.
Throughout the rest of the 1980s, BWA encouraged the development of high educational aspirations in the Indigenous community and facilitated the pursuit of numerous development goals. These included a master's degree for Norma Ingram from Harvard University, and master's and doctoral degrees for Mary Ann Bin-Sallik, also from Harvard. On the domestic front, BWA was instrumental in mobilising the public and raising funds to enable Shirley Smith (Mum Shirl) to pay off the house she was on the verge of losing, after a lifetime of helping others on her small pension.
Black Women’s Action in Education Foundation
In 1990, BWA (with the help of legal advisers, Danny Gilbert and Peter Waters) became registered as a tax-deductible foundation and changed its name to Black Women's Action in Education Foundation (BWAEF) to reflect both the change in status as well as its more focused direction.
At this time, Roberta Sykes worked along with Uncle Rob Bryant, Jackie Huggins, Jilpia Jones, Marcia Langton, Brian Syron and Lili Tuwai as Trustees of the BWAEF to share the vision of a better future in which Indigenous people could assume positive roles across a spectrum of career and leadership opportunities.
Over the next 15 years BWAEF continued to encourage and support Indigenous students to study in Australia and overseas. BWAEF funds were raised mainly though small donations by individuals and through community fund raising events.
Sadly in 2003 Roberta became ill and was confined to a nursing home. Roberta continued to be involved in BWAEF, although was unable to participate in the day to day activities. Through the efforts of BWAEF’s Trustees, the Foundation continued to support students until 2006.
Roberta Sykes Indigenous Education Foundation
In late 2008, after the Foundation had been dormant for a few years, Roberta asked Danny Gilbert to re-energise the BWAEF. Danny convinced Roberta that the name should be changed to the Roberta Sykes Indigenous Education Foundation (RSIEF). Danny Gilbert, as Principal of the RSIEF, appointed a new Board to carry on Roberta Sykes’ important work. In 2010, Peter Waters (Chair), Jilpia Jones, Shireen Malamoo, Mark McMillan, Richard Potok and Nicole Watson were appointed as Trustees. Richard was also appointed Executive Director.
On 14 November 2010 Roberta Sykes passed away. She was 66 years old.
RSIEF has continued Roberta’s legacy and currently supports a number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to undertake postgraduate study abroad. RSIEF also has started a program of bursaries to support short course overseas study. You can read more about the Roberta Sykes Scholars here.
In 2019, the RSIEF Board consists of Danny Gilbert as Principal, Peter Waters as Chair, Selwyn Button, Sharon Davis, Jilpia Jones, Taryn Lee, Greg Lehman and Shireen Malamoo as Trustees. Richard Potok serves as Executive Director with administrative support from staff at the Aurora Education Foundation. You can read more about the current Board of Trustees here.
How your donation helps
Tax deductible donations to RSIEF assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to undertake postgraduate study at overseas universities. RSIEF also now offers a bursary program that supports Indigenous leaders and managers to undertake short executive education programs at leading overseas universities.
The importance of having more Indigenous Australians in academia, and the professional and the business worlds should not be underestimated. We have found that one of the key ingredients for success in relation to both Indigenous undergraduates and postgraduates is the positive influence of role models and mentors during their time studying. The Roberta Sykes Scholarships assist students to undertake the programs that will enable them to be those role models and mentors.
When you donate to the Foundation you will be added to our database and receive regular newsletters and information on upcoming events. Our Community provides a free online donations service. Your donation goes directly to the Foundation (with only regular bank