Thursday, March 4, 2021

Laugh, Cry, Laugh – Goodbye Michael Ajakwe, Jr.

Michael Ajakwe, Jr.
Beloved Hollywood writer, producer, director and creator of LAWeb Fest. (Oct. 12, 1965- May 31, 2018)

*Rumors began just over a year ago that Michael Ajakwe, Jr. was not well. He kept a steady pace, worked forthrightly and when you talked to him he was upbeat.

Eventually terminal illness took over his body but not before scores of friends, family and industry professionals fell in love with this man’s creative writing and indelible wit.  On Friday, June 23, 2018 Hollywood showed up in full force to pay final respect to Michael Ajakwe, Jr. -Writer- Producer-Director-Visionary and Friend.

The main chapel at Angeles Funeral Home was jam packed, with a never ending stream of attendees lining the walls.  Officiating Bishop Jamal Alexander stated that he had never seen anything like this, a memorial with standing room only.

One by one luminaries graced the mic telling one dynamic story after another about how Michael Ajakwe had impacted their lives or career.  Judge Kevin Ross recanted stories of the early days of Mike’s LA WEBFest, which Michael launched in 2010.  Judge Ross marveled at Mike’s innovation and how the concept has now grown to worldwide events hosted in Europe, Asia, Australia, South America and Marseille in the south of France.

Actress Shoneji Robison had the audience in stitches as she emulated Michael as the producer who discovered raw talent with the pronouncement “You’re amazing” followed by an invitation to be a part of his cast as he birthed another big idea.  At the time it was the web series titled “Who,” which Michael sojourned for the next several years into what is now “Beauty and The Baller.

Another actress Diandra Lyle spilled the beans about how Mike defied his investors and fought for her to be his leading lady in the series despite the fact that she was an unknown, which is almost unheard of in Hollywood.  You see, Michael Ajakwe was that kind of friend.  Producer Meg Deloatch (Eve, Malcolm & Eddie) summed up Michael in the words of Salt N’ Pepa’s rap hit from 1994 “What a man, what a man, what a mighty good man.”  To which the audience agreed.

Michael Ajakwe and Ray Parker, Jr. at screening of Ray Parker, Jr.’s Unsung Episode 2012

Ray Parker, Jr. was also among those lured by Mike’s “You’re Amazing” description as he courted a friendship the with award winning recording artist and producer, and eventually Ray partnered with him on “Beauty and the Baller” for a price that only Ajakwe could negotiate.  Kosmond Russell (playwright & director) spoke of his brotherhood and echoed Michael Ajakwe’s deep level of commitment as a friend, a real friend who was loyal and frank.  Once you were a friend you had the same status of any of his friends and it didn’t matter who Mike knew first, longest or best.  Mike was not a fair weather friend.

Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump, Fences) was the last to get in on the remarks, revealing that he met “Mickey” when they were kids just after the Ajakwe family moved from Nigeria to Los Angeles.  Even then Mike had ambitions as a writer and a procurer of talent.  He had seen Mykelti on television and declared that he was “Amazing” and he even sold him a script for $5.00!

Bidding farewell to Michael has come much too soon, it’s no wonder that this final ceremony would be sparked with much laughter.  What else can you expect from someone who wrote on shows like Martin, Soul Food, Moesha, Sister Sister, Eve, Love That Girl and TV One’s Unsung.

Funeral program notes from Deniece Williams, Ted Lange, Jean Michel Albert (Marseille Web Fest), Mike’s family and his loving wife Tammy, added further sentiments for the occasion.

Others in attendance made up a who’s who of Hollywood, with scores of talent from both sides of the camera: Darice Rollins (Martin, Bad Boys II), Glynn Turman (Queen Sugar, Cooley High), Dorien Wilson (The Parkers), Jayne Kennedy, Bill Overton, Art Evans, Ernest Thomas (What’s Happening), Carl Guillard, Stacey Evans-Morgan (Family Time) John Forbes (BHERC), comedian Michael Colyar Jr., comedian Edwonda White, actor Stogie Kenyatta, producer Ian Foxx and many more.  Michael was among those who shaped lasting images & memories on television and on the web.  His colleagues are of the same ilk.  Thankfully there was laughter among the angst.

Mike-and-I-MWF-15crop
Michael Ajakwe at Melbourne, Australia WEBFest.

Though Michael bore most of his illness and fight for life in private or among his family and closest of friends, there is no shortage of loving associates who would have been there for him had they known.  Be it as it may, it was noble of Michael Ajawke Jr’s wife Tammy and family to graciously allow his friends, extended family and artistic community to come together (if only symbolically) to acknowledge that we are saddened by his loss, that we will surely miss him, that we regret that he has left us so soon and that our lives have certainly been impacted for the better by him.  Michael lived out loud, with purpose, passion and integrity.

My favorite story of Michael Ajawke involves an incident several years ago.  I was hosting a fashion segment at a stellar event presented by a local sorority.  They were honoring a black female executive in the entertainment industry, who brought along all of her famous friends.  The program was packed with many elements that were to take place before the fashions began.   When the models heard of the A-list of entertainment executives who were in the audience they were buzzing with joy backstage.  The gave me special instructions to note which ones were also actors, writers, directors and any other special details about their talents as they took the runway.  We all believed it was a serendipitous moment to be seen by such important people in Hollywood.  The honoree was finally introduced.  She gave a very long acceptance speech and as soon as her award was given and her speech was over, every single person at her table got up and left except Michael Ajawke. He is the only one who remained to give any grace or attention to the rest of the program that day. This cemented in my heart and mind that it matters not how people you wish to know, it only matters if you know the people who are right for you.  It’s the one person who believes in you and makes a difference for you.  Michael Ajakwe, Jr. was that person for everyone that he knew.

We object to this plot twist that has permanently extracted our brother from the scene, but God since you’re the Head Writer, we presume that he has returned to the celestial writer’s room. Meanwhile we earthlings will transcribe the notes that he has left for us and work them into the remaining acts of our lives.

Michael Ajakwe, Jr. dead at 52, we don’t like that punch line and damn you pancreatic cancer.  Michael chased every one of his dreams, fought for unknown actors, was a loyal friend and a game changer.

LaRita Shelbyhttp://www.RitaShelby.com
LaRita "Jazzy Rita" Shelby is a broadcast media & marketing professional. She serves as Director of Digital Strategy and Sales at EURweb.com. Additionally she is an actress, singer/songwriter who has appeared on TV and in film.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Wonderful article, LaRita. Makes me feel as if i knew this obviously wonderful friend and talented professional personally.

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