I’m greatly saddened today to hear the news of the death of Ray Jackson, president of the Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA) in Sydney, and more importantly for me, a great inspiration for anyone who heard him talk, saw him walk the streets of Redfern, or shared his space for just a moment.
His humble nature hid a giant of a human being, with a huge, tireless heart, steely determination, unwavering commitment to the cause and the will to fight on ’til the end, as he proved so this week. He died peacefully just hours after chairing his final ISJA meeting, and was found by his grand-daughter, with whom he lived in Waterloo.
I met Ray, a Wiradjuri man, last year in 2014, on the day he led the tenth march calling for justice in the case of TJ Hickey. Ray was leading the march from behind, commanding respect from the window of a Toyota with loud-hailer in hand. The march had attracted hundreds of people, but Ray kept them in line, despite the taunting stance of local and brought-in Police who were spoiling for a fight. Ray simply showed them how to handle things, and showed them up for what they were that day.
I interviewed Ray about that march in his own flat – he was kind and trusting enough to invite me up for a cuppa and a chat. He told me briefly about the various deaths in custody for which the ISJA calls for justice, and told me there’s a lot for me to learn, a lot to read, but that he’d take me through it. It made me feel welcome, and stronger for it. He inspired self respect, and bridged gaps where many before have failed.
And that was how we carried on until recently – Ray was always welcoming, encouraging, and strong in a way that made you feel better not just in yourself, but of yourself, and stronger for it. If this old man with his health problems could steadfastly oppose the injustice in the world, then so could I. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way.
He was honoured by the French Government in 2013, awarded the French Human Rights award (as seen in the above photo), after almost thirty years fighting for the recognition of the families of those who died in custody. No doubt this was a thorn in the side for those who would rather forget.
So in honour of Ray, I write this as humbly as I can. He would probably rather the time and space went to something more fitting, but in honour of his undying fight, the least I can do is to draw attention to his.
I feel honoured to have called him a mate, and feel the need to say, whether you’re Black, White, or anything else – we’ve lost a true warrior, and a true pillar of strength.
Rest in Peace, Ray Jackson.