Name: Imani Ellis
Occupation: Founder of CultureCon and the Creative Collective NYC
Motivator: Creating true impact in the community and spaces where diverse creatives and young professionals can feel seen and get the resources that they need to turn dreams into reality
NYC neighborhood: Harlem, Manhattan
Imani Ellis never imagined that what started as a potluck in her living room would grow into a company, movement and community of over 100,000 diverse creatives and young professionals in just a few years. She credits faith, her empathetic nature, a strong support system, work ethic and her ability to marry vision and execution with the success of the Creative Collective NYC and CultureCon. Read more about Imani’s journey below.
What brought you to NYC and what do you love about it?
When I was 11, my mom brought me here as a birthday gift, and I just couldn't believe that this was an option of where you could live. I went back to Atlanta and I just said, “Oh, I have to live in New York City one day.” I just love everything about this city. I love that you can have a CEO and an intern on the subway. I love that anything can happen in this city, and that it can really change your life.
What is your favorite NYC story or experience?
Walking down 125th Street in Harlem. There’s [the former] Hotel Theresa, which during the 1940s,’50s and ’60s hosted a ton of prominent Black figures, including Malcolm X, Muhammed Ali and Josephine Baker. Then you’re standing right in front of the Apollo Theater. One of the reasons that’s so impactful to me is it’s a living testament of all the great and rich history of Harlem specifically, and that there are still so many visual signs of those who came before us.
What comes to mind when you think about the Black community in NYC?
Definitely innovation, creativity and collaboration. I think it’s an ever-evolving ecosystem. People are coming all the time from new places, joining the community and building together. And I think that’s what kind of keeps it alive and healthy. You can go to an art exhibit or a day party and there’s so many different versions of what cool looks like, and it really boils down to artistic expression and individuality.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I feel like we rarely get to sit still, so I like to be in nature to be inspired. I’m also inspired by going to MoMA and seeing the world through different people’s eyes. Finally, I’m inspired by my parents. My dad has always been a really great leader, and I think my mom can really see people and meet them where they are. And so I see myself as the perfect balance of my parents, using both my head and heart.
What would you like your legacy to be?
I want my legacy to be that I was in service of my community and that I was constantly driven to create spaces where they felt seen. I want my legacy to be that I was brave enough to listen to the small voice inside that said, “If it seems too hard today, let’s try again tomorrow.”