Cheers To The Swift: Imani Ellis On Building Brave Spaces and Creative Community

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The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Imani Ellis, founder of The Creative Collective NYC, is a force in the entertainment world. Ellis’s vision is clear. She seeks to create “brave spaces for people of color.” As a creator and organizer of CultureCon, Ellis brings together creatives from all industries in all capacities. CultureCon has featured Regina King, BJ the Chicago Kid and Bozomo Saint John, Netflix executive. CultureCon, powered by The Creative Collective NYC, creates an atmosphere where people of color can learn from heavy hitters who have paved the way in their respective industry. The Con offers insight and entertainment from professionals, in front of the camera, microphone or behind the scenes. At the same time, audiences can delve into the experience of graphic designers and executives. Ellis’s ability to take stock of not only what she needs, but the needs of others in her community, has led to a thriving business that serves the CultureCon community. 

MADAMENOIRE sat down with Ellis to learn a little more about the woman that is helping to connect and uplift people of color in the arts. Ellis’s personal drive helped her become principal dancer in the Atlanta Ballet, a scholarship hurdler at Vanderbuilt, and a staff member at multiple networks such as NBC and Bravo. Ellis is no stranger to “reverse engineering” her life. She sets her goal and does not stop until she achieves it.

MADAMENOIRE: When you graduated from Vanderbilt University what did you think you were going to do?

Imani Ellis: I decided I was going to live in New York when I graduated. When I was a freshman in college, I went to New York with my mom and saw the energy. I just started filling up that resume with experience so I could show up the next summer in New York and work again. 

You’re speaking of a real growth mindset. Like, I’m growing, no matter what. When you got to New York, did you find that you’re seeking out community? Or was it because I’m in New York, I’m laser focused and not thinking about community yet?

That’s a great question. I absolutely needed community. I remember Everyday People was just one of the first things I saw and thought was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I definitely found pockets of community in different places, but it felt like they were always in vacuums.

Let’s talk about the Creative Collective. 

I definitely was seeing great pockets of community and I loved that about New York, but what I sought to really create was this just safe space where you could ask questions and be vulnerable. I had like 22 people at my house. I cooked tacos for them. We went around and asked what do you need right now? That was the question–what do you need right now? 

What do you need right now? is a specific ask for people in communal spaces. What led to that question?

It just felt like the air was really stiff and I just felt like everyone knew [things I didn’t] and I was like am I the only one who doesn’t know?

What is your definition of a brave space?

I think when you’re in a brave space, you’re really able to bloom. You’re able to thrive. You’re able to show up.

You can be in a safe space at your job, but not feel brave enough to speak up and say something at the table. The difference between those two people is, one feels liberated to be their full selves. And one, is maybe in the room, but doesn’t feel empowered that they are able to take action.

You also founded CultureCon. Let’s talk about it. 

We just saw there was an appetite for a conference built by creatives of color for creatives of color. We got tired of begging to have a seat at this table. We literally just decided to build our own.

You’re trying to bring more people into creative spaces. Why is that important for you to do?

It’s important that The Creative Collective is a living, breathing community and a part of that is highlighting the change makers. But to your point, it’s also creating an amplifier for resources. We also do educational opportunities like Creative Curriculum where there are master classes to learn different things and are completely free. We just want to make sure that the resources are there to match the creativity.

Are you still in the season of rise and grind, hard work, head down? Which season is this for you?

I think when I was first starting out, it was just grinding. My friends were going to brunches and dinners and I was the one who was like, “I’m sorry, I can’t. I can’t.”

But now, it’s a little bit of both. I need glorious rest, glorious rest, but I also need to be working on something.

You like to hike, you like nature and you like food. Since you are in the season of eating out, what is your favorite meal?

Oh my gosh. My favorite meal is the most Southern comfort meal you can describe.

Let’s say you’re indulging and having a little drink, maybe a cocktail. What is your go-to cocktail?

I love something that’s fruity but not too sweet. Something with pineapple juice, a cognac. I feel like it’s both masculine and feminine energy.

So maybe a little hike, a picnic, some soul foods and a nice versatile cocktail. 

Anything that is cooler, I’m like, yes. And Martel’s Swift Cooler is delicious.

Cheer To The Swift

Absolutely!

Try Imani’s go-to cocktail, the Martell Swift Cooler! Simply click here for the recipe.


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