On Thursday, Dragons prop Josh Kerr stood as a proud Indigenous man in launching the club’s Reconciliation Action Plan.
However, in an emotional and frank admission, the 22-year-old says it wasn’t always the case. Far from it.
It’s that personal journey that’s inspired him to make a difference for young Indigenous kids today by showing pride in his culture and his people.
“I think the biggest issue we face as Indigenous young men and women is probably cultural identity,” Kerr said.
“Going through school, we had a few Indigenous students and teachers, but the majority were non-Indigenous.
“When I was younger I think people were just uneducated. I was made out be a drunk and a drug addict and whatnot.
“Growing up and going through it was hard. I’ve never been like that but it left me asking ‘is that who we are as a people?’
“They’d make their jokes and I’d go along with it just to feel a part of something growing up and wanting to fit in.
“As I got older, and as I saw people like Greg Inglis, Jonathan Thurston, Matt Bowen… they inspired me and helped give me courage as a young man to stand up for what I believe in and that’s being a proud Indigenous man.
“Looking back, part of me’s glad I went through that because it’s made me the person I am today.
“People always see the bad side of things but, the culture that we have, if you see the things I’ve seen, you just fall in love with it. I can’t speak highly enough of my people.”
The launch of the Dragon RAP coincides with NAIDOC week which this year celebrates Indigenous women through the "Because of her, we can" campaign.
If it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t be the person I am today. My mother and my nannas are just the best role models for me.Josh Kerr
It’s something that’s prompted Kerr, through tears of pride, to reflect on the women in his life who have shaped him, mum Angela and nannas Ailsa and Judy.
“100 per cent my mother,” he said when asked who was his greatest inspiration.
“She has two mothers, she was taken from her family when she was younger.
“The women that adopted my mother kept in contact with her real mum and when she was of age she let my mother know that was her real mum.
“She’s a white woman so, back then, for someone like that to take my mother in and raise her the way she’s been raised… it’s good to know there were people like that back then.
“If it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t be the person I am today. My mother and my nannas are just the best role models for me.”
Kerr said it’s as much for them as it is for him, that he jumped at the chance to take the lead on the club’s reconciliation plan having watched his own heroes take the lead through rugby league.
“In the mid-1960s our people were classed as flora and fauna,” Kerr said.
“Then for Artie Beetson, a proud Indigenous man, to be the [Queensland] captain for the first State of Origin [in 1980] shows how far we’d come.
“From then, now Jonathan Thurston’s a national icon. Growing up and being a young Indigenous boy and seeing guys like Greg Inglis, Matt Bowen, Jonathan Thurston doing this sort of thing it makes you proud.
“The game itself over the last 10 years has just progressed massively towards First Nations Peoples’ identity.
“I’m really proud to be a part of it and I think, with where it’s heading in the future, [the RAP] is a big step forward in educatin Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.”