Palawa person Mark Cleaver has their eyes set on “creating my own path”, refusing to let daily challenges get in the way of achieving their goals.
The 35-year-old is studying a masters of human resource management at Melbourne’s RMIT after pursuing a range of disciplines in their studies.
The achievements are all the more impressive given the disadvantage they’ve faced.
Cleaver identifies as ‘queer, disabled and Indigenous’, and said they were often made an example of and subject to ‘implicit bias’.
Past employers have made thinly-veiled attempts to tick boxes at Cleaver’s expense.
Cleaver said they had been sought for advice on behalf of First Nations, disabled or LGBTQIA+ people but turned away when offering to get more involved in the projects.
“I kind of got sick of being used for my lived experience,” Cleaver said.
“You get put in a box.”
“People come and open that box when they need something, but then you’re very quickly packed back in.”
They said it can feel like world expects them to fail.
While uncomfortable with the role model tag, Cleaver said anyone could be a leader.
They said growing up there was little representation of people like them finding success through adversity.
“For a very long time I let people tell me what to expect from me,” they said.
“I need to live by the advice that I would give to somebody in my shoes.
“If I don’t take charge of this situation for myself, then how can I advocate for other people.”
Cleaver’s late mother’s experience of hardship, trauma and frustration as an Indigenous woman serves as the inspiration behind everything they do.
A PhD is next on the list of goals Cleaver hopes to achieve.