Korin Gamadji Institute program coordinator Jessica Bennett has been recognised for her strong advocacy and leadership with Indigenous youth across the community.

Bennett, 22, received the 2020 Ricci Marks award, formerly the Aboriginal Young Achievers Award, at the Victorian State Library last month.

The award recognises and encourages exceptional young Aboriginal leaders to pursue their aspirations, which for Bennett include finishing her Bachelor of Laws (Honours) and Bachelor of Arts majoring in Human Rights and Indigenous Cultures and History at Monash University.

Bennett has been involved with the Richmond Football Club since she was just 14, joining the KGI’s Richmond Emerging Aboriginal Leadership (REAL) Program from her hometown of Albury.

Bennett, who has moved on to part-time work with the KGI whilst balancing her studies, says it was at one of her early REAL camps that she realised what could become possible for her.

“Uncle Luke (Murray) picked me up from the train station and took me into the program. Meeting other Aboriginal youth from all over Victoria was really special.

“I remember we stayed at Melbourne University, and for me back then, I was someone that did not think I would ever go to University. I thought I would never have the money or would not be smart enough. I did not think it was a possibility for me.

“To have Luke and KGI take us into a University and explain how the system works and tell us it is a possibility was amazing. Just knowing that there is a pathway and opportunities is so important for the young mob.”

As a program coordinator, Bennett now hopes to make it crystal clear for other young Indigenous people that they too can be heard and be given a chance to follow their dreams.

“I do not know where or when, but I want to end up in a position where I can make a change and have a real impact on our mob,” Bennett added.

“Being a person of colour and a woman, we are people that do not always have a seat at those big tables, making big decisions. If it is not me, I want to help someone get the opportunity to push themselves into those positions.

“I would love to be Peggy O’Neal one day.”

Bennett is the fourth KGI alumni to claim the top state honour, following in the footsteps of Tahlia Biggs (2017), Elise Muller (2016), and Will Austin (2014).

Jess Bennett and Tahlia Biggs at the 2019 AFL Grand Final

“It means a lot; I am quite humbled by it, but at the same time, it is so nice to be recognised. The things we do for our community are for our community, and this award is for all the young people that inspire me.

“It is for Richmond, and it is for KGI. Without them, I would not be the person that I am today. So, this is for them and all the professional development that they have put into me.”

With KGI now in its 10th year, Bennett said she was excited to continue helping to mold its future through her position with the Club.

“Having gone through the program as a young person, I know what helped me to grow, so it is really exciting now to be able to help design, create and facilitate the programs,” she added.

“Not only through cultural measures but also by bringing in the experts and arranging the sessions that we know work.

“It makes me so incredibly proud to be a part of the Richmond mob and family. I know it is something that does not end. If I go on and become an adult and a lawyer one day, I know that I will still be a part of Richmond.”

Ten years ago, the words Korin Gamadji, meaning ‘grow and emerge’, were gifted to the Richmond Football Club by Wurundjeri Elders. From here the Korin Gamadji Institute (KGI) emerged.

The Club is proud of what the KGI has achieved and are thankful for the guidance of the Wurundjeri peoples and the wider Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

In 2021, we reflect and celebrate the past ten years and together, we make strong and bold plans for the KGI of the future.