The Walk the Talk series continued again this week after a bit of a break, just due to the school having a lot of P.D. days.
The speaker was R.J. Cui, but before I go into who he is, what he does and what he talked about, I’d like to explain how he ended up even being a part of Walk the Talk.
My scheduled speaker for this week had to back out of his commitment, rather than reschedule, for this program because his work commitments have piled up and he needs to catch up. The school missed out on hearing from Steven Csorba, who is a local artist, dedicated November Project CAN photographer and youth volunteer at iHuman, and so I knew if I was going to try and fill his spot, it would have to be with an equally amazing human, or I’d have to cancel this past week’s program. But, I lucked out. I found an equally amazing and inspirational speaker: R.J. Cui with Planit Sound.
Over the past two years, I’ve had the amazing opportunity, and unusual desire for such a shy person, to expand my circles and meet some amazing, community minded people. November Project was the start of this exploration of meeting really cool people, along with the Running Room training clinics and Spinunity, followed by just saying “Yes,” whenever I heard about random talks or mini-conferences with Alberta Women Entrepreneurs, LitFest, lululemon Here to Be events and more.
But my connection to R.J. came from my family connection, which seems funny after all the people I’ve met as of late. My brother-in-law, Ian Alleyne (aka. Fendercase) knows R.J. from a project the two of them worked on years ago for the United Way campaign Change Starts Here. R.J.’s company Planit Sound produced the video and R.J. also rapped in it. (Ian was actually the second speaker to this Walk the Talk series.) My sister-in-law, Elizabeth (Ian’s wife and my husband’s sister), is a Grade 4 teacher who had R.J. come into her class/school to work on music-related projects over the past couple of months.
I knew of these connections, these one or two degrees of separation I had to R.J., as well as the work he’s done for the community, which would fit the Walk the Talk series perfectly … but how do you ask someone to come speak to a group of kids he doesn’t know and to do it next week? Well, you just ask and see what happens.
R.J. replied right away and said yes, without hesitation. We tweaked the regular date of Walk the Talk to fit his schedule, but he came and was eager to present.There were a lot of messages to share with the kids from R.J’s work and life experience that made 40 minutes of presentation time not quite long enough, but R.J. did his best.
He explained that when he started one of his companies, PlanitSound, a key goal of his and his wife’s (co-owner Rowena Cui) was to give back to the community. They aimed to have half of their projects be community based and the others were for profit. As of today, R.J. said that roughly 80% of their projects are community based for non-profits and organizations like the United Way (UW) of the Alberta Capital Region. That is when he showed the video of Change Starts Here to the kids, where Planit Sound donated over half of its services, and explained that this was the first regional campaign that UW has ever made into a national one for every United Way city/chapter used. Usually, each city/region/chapter comes up with its own awareness campaign.
The kids were wowed by the fact that R.J., and his company, made the video but missed that he was actually also in it rapping right near the beginning. It was a few years ago and was bald in the video but showed up to present with a full head of hair. A fair misunderstanding by the group.
Making a video is super cool, R.J. assured the kids, but there’s a lot of hard work that goes into it. It was about a 12-hour day of shooting to complete the “Change Starts Here” video with a lot of prep, make-up, wardrobe changes, site location changes and some waiting around for the other performers to complete their solo parts. So, it’s not as glamorous as the final product makes it seem, but that’s the point. The final product is meant to wow people, and R.J.’s work does. There’s just a lot of hard work that goes into the production behind the scenes. It’s not easy.
His presentation brought up the idea of Walking the Talk a lot, which of course I was a fan of. As a kid, R.J. worked in the chain of Red Rooster convenience stores his parents owed and was paid with chips and slurpees, he said, from a very young age. The idea of responsibility and discipline stuck with him as much as the amazement that you could own your own business and have a flexible work schedule. The flexibility was a big driver as to why he’s an entrepreneur and business owner today. It definitely wasn’t for the money, he said, telling the kids he had a year of making absolutely nothing, when he first started up his company. But he and Rowena, his girlfriend at the time, truly believed in their abilities and talents and so they didn’t give up.
R.J. took music lessons growing up–didn’t like them–but continued because his parents made him. He thanks them now, but really didn’t at the time. Since starting Planit Sound about eight years ago, R.J. realized that you can give back to the community in a non-traditional way. Donating is great, but what if you can give back through something you’re good at like singing, dancing or making music videos? That was the light-bulb going off for R.J., where he was able to do the things he loved and he was good at, but he could help his community with as well. Hence, the many campaigns Planit Sound has worked on for videos, commercials and events, like the Avenue of Hope Gala: Light the Way Home (that Fendercase was the singer for the theme song) that benefits the Lurana Shelter Society to raise awareness about domestic abuse.
The many takeaways that R.J. crammed into the 40 minutes were that you can give back to your community and with your act of giving, other people will do the same in return for you.
Think outside of the box to get what you want. For him, to get a sales position at the radio station 91 The Bounce (now Kiss 91.7), he had to send many resumes, then begin to hand-deliver them and introduce himself, and then re-introduce himself over and over to the sales manager before she’d finally give him a chance at an interview and eventually giving him the job. Create your own opportunities. Nothing is going to be handed to you or fall into your lap.
Believe in yourself and your talents. They can take you far and help you to help others with.
Work hard, make goals, and ask yourself what you can do for others.
Thanks so much R.J. You inspired a lot of kids yesterday and humored them by picking up the guitar and playing for them, even though that was never in the plan. And you played it well, too.
You continue to do so everyday through your work.