Thousands of creators, business owners, entrepreneurs, and freelancers look forward to the dynamic programming, activations, and unmatched headliners that The Creative Collective NYC curates at CultureCon. This year is no different. Except that it is officially making its way back to New York City in person after going virtual during the pandemic. Imani Ellis, founder and CEO CultureCon and The Creative Collective (TheCCnyc), says this year will be reminiscent of a homecoming.
“CultureCon was born in New York. So, this is absolutely a homecoming of sorts that we’re going to have,” said Ellis.
Homecoming celebrations within the Black culture are deeply rooted in celebrating the best of who we are and what the community has to offer one another. One of those offerings is the gift of collaboration. CultureCon is an innovation hub where people can find inspiration, new connections, business partners, and more. In 2016, this is what Ellis envisioned. Now, the seed of her idea has been fruitful as she has built her team, the business, and the TheCCnyc community to over 100,000 members.
“When you talk about the evolution of an idea, I think the best part is once the idea gets into the world and gets into the hands of collaboration, it can become so much more than what you could have ever initially planned. That is what comes out of CultureCon, collaboration,” said Ellis. “Behind the scenes, there’s a group of us who are powerful. Everyone in their zones of genius is doing what they do best. And the product of that is CultureCon.”
There Is Power In Collaboration
Knowing how to identify opportunities for collaboration is critical.
“Whether that is you having a dream and working with your friends, or with your family, or making new friends and building something, I think that it’s been really powerful to see how an idea, once it gets momentum, can grow and become your wildest dream.”
Since founding CultureCon and TheCCnyc, Ellis has strategically secured top talent to build her team on all sides of the business. To her benefit, she has a wealth of leadership experience and understands the importance of blind trust – which she attributes to her training as a ballerina and a track star.
“I did ballet for 14 years. That was where I first saw teamwork in terms of having partners and having people that you’re literally putting your life in their hands. You had to trust that the person was going to hold you. And yes, you’re beautiful in your tutu, but if you didn’t trust the person, the performance was over,” said Ellis. She later went on to run track. “My favorite race was the relay. We did the four by one – and I was always the second leg on the straightaway. I had to have blind trust for my colleagues,” she added.
There’s No Way Around Building Trust
Developing the discernment for establishing blind trust as she builds her team and produces CultureCon as a three-city tour and event series is something that can be attributed to Ellis’ success. Along with her commitment to servant leadership.
“When I looked at the scale, impact, and the resources of something like CultureCon, I can’t look at that and not look at the team. The beginning of wisdom is recognizing that you don’t do it alone. Ego tells you that you do things alone. I haven’t met a single leader I admire who doesn’t also reflect their team,” said Ellis. “I think the true mark of leadership is being able to be of service. And so, I am of service to my team, just as they are in service to the cause.”
An African Proverb states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Ellis is aligned with that way of operating. She also leans into the wisdom of her mother. “My mom would always say (to her and her siblings), ‘Make space for each other. Let it breathe,'” Ellis shared.
“I always over-communicate that because I know people love a story where one person pulls themselves up by their bootstraps and does it all alone. But, I think the more realistic and better story is when people can come together for a mighty-mighty purpose.”
Showing Up And Showing Out Requires Discipline
Ellis’ journey as a founder and her notable role as a Vice President within a leading media company has placed her on the national radar. While she has shared how she has been able to climb the corporate ladder as a Black woman within public relations, what she wants others to take away for themselves is how paramount being disciplined is.
As someone who has always had to manage a tight schedule, Ellis learned to be disciplined early with the support of her parents. They also made sure she was anchored in faith. And as someone who works better under pressure, Ellis has coached herself to be all the more structured.
“At this leadership level, procrastination is not a luxury I have. There are consequences for procrastinating. So, what I’ve really been working on is managing myself,” said Ellis. For her, that means waking up at five in the morning most days, holding herself accountable, and practicing grace as she manages her day-to-day personally and professionally. “Once you can manage these little things, it’s crazy how you can start to manage teams and processes. If you can’t manage yourself, it’s kind of like you don’t take yourself seriously.”
She shared one of her favorite quotes, “I can’t hear what you’re saying because what you’re doing is so loud.”
“You might not say, ‘I don’t take myself seriously,’ but if you always set goals for yourself and never see them through, you do not take yourself seriously. And, of course, I’m speaking in a vacuum. There are so many obstacles and external forces. But I’m talking about setting goals for yourself and then working to attain them,” said Ellis.
Five Tips For Getting Organized And Goal Setting
If you’ve found yourself challenged by your routines or your inability to meet your mark as an entrepreneur, Ellis has five tips for you:
- Spend some time in silence to figure out what your purpose is really saying to you.
- Think about the spaces where you thrive and then where you can be in partnership with others where they thrive.
- Set tangible and actionable goals.
- Be transparent and honest about how you best operate.
- Hire your weakness. Either delegate, learn or find partnership in areas where you need help.
Ellis’ advice doesn’t solely come from the perceivable shiny moments many have become enamored with. Rather the moments when she admittedly has fallen short, struggled with her confidence, and in instances when she forgot what she brought to the table.
“Those are the ebbs and flows. There are certain times when you feel unstoppable. Sometimes you set goals, and maybe you didn’t get them right this time. All of those things either make you humble and figure out your purpose. Or, it’s going to make you stronger. I have to talk about the duality of it because the “shine” wouldn’t be so great if you didn’t know what the not-so-shiny moments felt like,” said Ellis.
CultureCon Is The Culture
CultureCon is designed with great intention. And in addition to it being a safe space for Black entrepreneurs, creators, and business owners, Ellis shared that it is a brave space. “I completely agree with safe spaces. But I also feel like being safe implies that you have to be quiet and small and in danger. Brave spaces imply that you can be your whole self and show up and be larger than your wildest dreams.”
This year, attendees can look forward to a star-studded lineup of celebrities, influencers, and changemakers throughout various industries who will be taking to stage to share information to help people get from where they are to where they desire to be in their careers or business.
“When people come to CultureCon, the goal is for them to build community, find resources, change their minds, and be curious. It’s a space where you can be every part of your creative process. But the most important thing is that they feel like they’re coming home to the space that was built for them,” said Ellis.