Braylen Dion—Trunk Archive

In 2016, Imani Ellis had a coveted job working in communications at Bravo, but what she really wanted was a community.

So rather than wait for the industry to change and better support Black and brown creative professionals navigating a competitive job market, she decided to take matters into her own hands. She gathered a few friends in the living room of her Harlem apartment and launched the Creative Collective, a community that seeks to uplift young creatives of color by offering necessary resources and space to network with other professionals.

Then, even as she climbed the ranks at NBCUniversal, ultimately becoming a vice president, Ellis continued to expand her vision. In 2017 she launched CultureCon, an annual conference that allows the community she’s building to learn and grow together. “CultureCon was born out of wanting to build a brave space where Black and brown creatives didn’t have to feel embarrassed that they didn’t have all the answers,” says Ellis, 34. “We wanted to build this beautiful world where you not only felt safe, which is your intrinsic right, but you felt brave—brave enough to ask questions and introduce yourself to new people.”

The conference offers workshops on skill building, such as “How to Build a Team,” “Building a Network with Intention,” and “Finance and Investing Tips.” It also features conversations with celebrities like Spike Lee, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Issa Rae, which Ellis says offer invaluable inspiration to the young professionals. “In addition to tangible skill sets like ‘here’s how to build a portfolio,’ or ‘here’s how to market your business’ … it’s also being able to see these larger-than-life icons in more vulnerable spaces, and I think that unlocks a level of access that our community is hungry for,” she says.

Ellis left her job to focus on the Creative Collective full time in 2022. The next year, CultureCon attracted 10,000 attendees and hosted its inaugural job fair. Going forward, Ellis aims to keep fostering a community not just in the U.S. but around the world, but even as it grows, she hopes the conference never loses its living-room vibe.

“We’re all about scaling intimacy, and everybody is somebody,” she says.

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