Creative Conversations over Coffee: Sunday Ajak

Header image for Interrobang article CREDIT: PHOTO PROVIDED BY SUNDAY AJAK
Basking in the sun, Sunday Ajak enjoys the calmness of the summer.

COVID-19 was not the first time I was forced to sit with a reflection of myself.

of myself. I had been in school consistently since I was five and did summer school almost every year in high school. I worked one to two jobs simultaneously and put my mental health on the backburner because that was what I thought was expected of me.

After decades of this, I was exhausted.

A person shown reading a book. Text states exam time can feel overwhelming. Let us help you succeed.

I remember one day waking up to my full-time job after university, depressed because I was not happy living my life for everyone but myself.

It was at the point I decided to apply to school for two programs that would creatively fulfil me. I decided upon acceptance into both, I would take the next six months leading up to the first day of classes to do nothing.

Doing nothing at that time made everything happening now exist.

It was a time where I recognized how drastically skewed I was from my original plan. Those six months served as a necessary time to recalibrate my creative energy in hopes of serving me rather than hurting me.

This re-engagement of creative energy was central to my creative conversation with Sunday Ajak, a budding motivational speaker.

Sunday Ajak

Originally from South Sudan but born in Newfoundland, Sunday Ajak is a third-year Western student studying social justice and peace.

Like most people in 2020, COVID19 has unveiled to him his best and worst sides, all in the hopes of learning from himself.

“We all went through our own battles. Everyone came out a different person. Everyone in the entire world — through their isolation [and] putting the world on pause — were forced to sit with themselves. It’s made me think a lot about myself… [and] a lot about life… It’s really made me see the world in a different light and see myself in a different light.”

Unfortunately, against the backdrop of 2020, much of the world is yet to be illuminated. However, Ajak was amazed to see the London community parallel his own awakening.

On June 6, a historic 10,000-person Black Lives Matter protest electrified Victoria Park. For the protection of his relatives, Ajak was unable to attend but his friendship to the organizers of the event coupled with his own Black experience, kept him mentally present.

“Just to see it all come together so beautifully was the most incredible thing. I have never — not once — seen London pulled together [for] that big of an event…in terms of a social cause. I’ve never seen London get it, that big, [and] that quick...It was genuinely incredible.”

For Ajak, COVID-19 also served as the catalyst to reignite his creative flame. This allowed him to take the necessary time to hone his motivational speaking skills again — a love he long left behind in high school.

Like many high school experiences, it is a strange time where you are learning to deal with the unpredictability of your mental health alone, something Ajak understood.

“My mental health throughout high school went through patterns. It was good [and] it was bad. And I never really knew how to deal with it. It was always just sort of something I faced.”

Fast forward to his grade 11 year where a one-off assembly during Black History Month changed him forever.

“During these assemblies, I kind of just fade off as everyone does — you don’t really pay attention. But for some reason, hearing him talk actually made me listen and it was weird because I’ve never done that before it. You know the attention span of a teenager is like a minute and then it goes away, but this one… I was holding on to every single word.”

The person he was listening to was Leroy Hibbert, a well-respected educator, leader, and motivational speaker here in London Ontario. If you are a true Londoner, you already know and understand the power behind Hibbert’s words, something both Ajak and I hold in common.

Ajak was captivated by not only his words but his ability to connect and resonate through simply expressing his thoughts.

That night scrolling through Facebook, it was as though the universe was in alignment for Ajak. He came across a video from Prince Ea, a popular spoken word artist. Enthralled by the video, he began memorizing Prince Ea’s words day by day until opening the video was no longer necessary.

A spur of the moment decision encouraged by his friend, Ajak signed up for the Christmas talent show and wowed the crowed with the words of Prince Ea.

“I got a standing ovation, and it was crazy. I had never pictured myself being on stage. But once I got up there and once I was talking—even though they were his words— I just felt empowered. It felt so incredible because I knew I saw the faces of everyone in crowd and I’m like, wow, it’s hitting them.”

With one member of the crowd being an organizer of ONERUN, a non-profit cancer organization here in the city, Ajak received his first speaking opportunity.

Speaking at six different schools, he was more than prepared for his full circle moment at a Black History Month event a year later where both he and Hibbert were speaking.

Becoming something of a mentor to Ajak, Hibbert began giving him speaking opportunities that he gleefully took. Learning from his mannerisms and his tone, Ajak learned the fundamentals in crowd engagement, something that has helped bridge his transition from high school to university.

Speaking at several student organized university events, Ajak hopes to continue down his now reengaged path.

With his sights set high, he hopes 2021 will bring him the one viral hit he knows will catapult his career to a new stratosphere.

You can check out Ajak’s work on his Instagram @Speaker.Sunday or his YouTube page titled Sunday Ajak.