Meet Some Of The Powerhouse Women Creating “Brave Spaces” For Multicultural Creatives

Since its first conference, CultureCon went from an intimate headcount of 150 attendees to close to 2,000 during last year’s event — where Tracee Ellis Ross, Dave East, Regina King and other big names took the panel stage. The Creative Collective NYC’s annual conference for multicultural creatives has even bigger plans for 2020, and Unbothered had a chance to catch up with some of the amazing Black and brown women on the team to discuss all they’ve accomplished.

“CultureCon 2019 was an out-of-body experience,” founder Imani Ellis tells R29Unbothered. “It felt like the creative homecoming of our dreams. I remember standing on the stage alongside the CultureCon team and just thinking, ‘Is this real?!’ So many months of planning and teamwork goes into CultureCon, and to see it all come to life is a feeling I will never forget.”

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Ellis, who also works full-time as a Communications Director for Bravo, E! and Oxygen — where she spearheads press strategy on shows including the Emmy-nominated Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen, The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Million Dollar Listing New York, E! News programming and more — is especially excited about what’s ahead. “CCNYC is growing everyday and that’s been exciting to witness,” she adds.

The CCNYC’s goal is to evolve without losing what draws hundreds to their meetups each year. This year, they’ll introduce their first-ever CultureCon job fair, where guests will have the opportunity to interface with talent recruiters and explore different career options.

“The planning process for CultureCon is a machine, with preliminary planning beginning at the top of the year and momentum picking closer to the event,” Ellis explains. “Because our team is filled with all-stars, everyone kills it on their own and then we bring all the individual pieces together to create something truly special.”

She adds, “I think there is a common misconception that Millennials and Gen-Z only want to socialize and party, when in fact, most of us are really looking for resources and opportunities to learn.”

Of course, like many others, Ellis and the team have had to make some changes to this year’s schedule in the wake of COVID-19, the novel virus that has affected thousands globally. CultureCon Atlanta, which was scheduled for May, was postponed until August 22, 2020. CultureCon NYC is still scheduled to take place on Saturday, October 10, 2020 as originally planned.

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“My heart truly goes out to everyone on the front lines of this virus,” Ellis says. “It’s been so devastating to see the negative impact it’s having already and inspiring to see how communities are stepping up to help where they can.”

Still, Ellis and the CultureCon collective are looking positively into the future.

“To be surrounded by these amazing women — and men, too — is a dream come true,” Ellis muses. “I’ve found that if you work hard, do right by people and keep the faith — amazing things can happen. Why limit myself with a five-year plan? I’d rather be surprised by how great it can get.  What I know for sure? This is just the beginning.”

Get to know the ladies behind CultureCon below.

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Amber Mayfield

Member Since: 2018

Role: CultureCon Project Manager

What She Does: I plan events full-time for my company, TO BE HOSTED. In my full-time work, my events are small, about 150 people or less. Since the nature of these events are really personalized and intimate, my special sauce is to keep that same energy when I am thinking about CultureCon.

Favorite CultureCon Moment: Tracee Ellis Ross arriving at CultureCon 2019. She was wearing this incredible bright purple dress and huge sunglasses and she just smiled at everyone. Over the walkie, I could hear someone say, “She’s here, she’s here!” In that moment, I remember thinking, “Wow, no going back now.” 

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Black Girl Mantra: “Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.” — Maya Angelou

What Being “Unbothered” Means To Her: For me, unbothered is to be unwavering. Unwavering in my work, my decisions, and my lifestyle. 

When I started working on CultureCon in 2018, I had just started freelancing and was in the process of building up my event company. I worked in Corporate America previously, and was completely burnt out from that experience. I met CCNYC founder Imani Ellis when we worked together the year prior. When she approached me about the CultureCon Project Manager role, I was hesitant at first because it sounded like a really big job. I also respect Imani immensely, so at the time I was like, “Me? Are you sure I’m on your level?” I was so scared to say yes, but I realized it was an opportunity to do what I do best for my own community, which made me want to do the job and be part of the CCNYC team. 

As the Project Manager, my role touches all facets of the event. I oversee a team of 15, and I work on everything from venue management to vendor negotiation, budget management, production planning, ticketing, as well as logistics for our marketing, partnership and talent teams. If you think of CultureCon as a puzzle, my job is to make sure all the pieces of the puzzle are there, and make sure they all fit together on event day. 

The CultureCon team truly operates like a family. I particularly love that every woman takes her work more seriously than she takes herself. So all of their work is excellent and thorough, and we still laugh the whole way through. It is by far my favorite part of being on this team.

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Desiree Talley

Member Since: 2017

Role: CultureCon Small Business Lead

What She Does: I began as a fellow to assist with the execution of events. My contributions quickly propelled into planning the events, curating partnerships and more.

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Favorite CultureCon Moment: Seeing Tracee Ellis Ross at CultureCon 2019. Her character Joan on the show Girlfriends is one of the reasons why I became an attorney. Unfortunately, I was running around and didn’t get to tell her that. But if she reads this, thank you! 

Black Girl Mantra: “I don’t gamble. But if there’s one thing I bet on, it’s myself.” — Beyoncé 

What Being “Unbothered” Means To Her: Being Black and proud, unapologetically — without filter or fear of losing opportunities. 

[Before I joined the CultureCon team], the CCNYC was hosting a screening for one of the new BET shows. I met Imani and we clicked. The rest is history! I wanted to be a part of the team because I loved seeing young Black people in the entertainment space, doing things on their terms and taking back the power of how they wanted to be “marketed” to by major companies. I wanted to help control the narrative. 

These days, I’ve limited my role to focusing solely on CultureCon. I create and secure brand partnerships for our talent gifting suite and vendor marketplace. Lately, my focus has been on Black-owned brands. As a community organization with visibility, my goal is to highlight as many Black brands as possible. If I have the ball, it’s only right to throw people that look like me an alley loop. 

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Outside of CultureCon, I am the CEO + Founding Attorney of Talley Law Group. Sometimes, I handle legal matters for CCNYC and chime in or reel in creative ideas when there are legal implications behind certain moves we are considering. My background in entertainment as talent and as an attorney allows me to contribute ideas with dual perspectives. I have the unique ability to holistically see both sides of the coin. 

I’ve had the opportunity to speak on panels at the past two CultureCon events. Sharing my legal knowledge with my community is so rewarding to me. I love when I get notes and calls from someone in attendance thanking me for the legal advice that I shared and how it has helped their business or inspired them to start a business. Those moments are priceless.

In five years I see myself being a big time on-air host/correspondent for all things pop culture. I will be telling my personal story of taking a chance on myself and how I was inspired by the women and the work I’ve done with CultureCon to make it a multi-city cultural conference where Blackness is celebrated.

Imani Ellis

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Role: Founder & CEO

Favorite CultureCon Moment: My favorite CultureCon moments are the team meetings we have. We order pizza, we kiki about what news The Shade Room just posted, we think of panel topics-- there’s nothing like having our entire team together at the table.

Black Girl Mantra: “Everything will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not the end.” Also, anything Oprah says.

What Being “Unbothered” Means To Her: Being unapologetically who you are. It means being your bravest and fullest self, no matter who’s watching.

I had very humble dreams for the Creative Collective — I thought we’d meet a few times in my apartment, like a monthly Bible study. Since those first meet-ups, we’ve grown into the fastest growing community dedicated to creatives and young professionals of color in New York City. It’s just a testament to what happens when you build something in collaboration with your friends. We’re stronger and braver together.

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Our mission has been the same since day one: We curate brave spaces for creatives of color so they can be their full and unapologetic selves. We also want to cater to people with a 360-degree approach. We don’t want to just know what they’re working on, we also really care about how they’re doing. We want to inspire action because the best way to build anything...is to just start.

At first, I thought that CultureCon could be a safe space for curious creatives of color. Little did I know, we didn’t need a safe space; we had been playing it safe for far too long. We needed a brave space. Safe implies that you’re hiding and making yourself smaller to avoid harm, but when you’re brave, you give yourself permission to be your full and authentic self. CultureCon asks you to show up as yourself, and there’s something so radical about that.

Nabeela Ahmad

Member Since: 2018

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Role: Meetups & Event Planning

What She Does: I head up the planning and logistics around our monthly community meet-ups. In addition to this, I have a variety of event production responsibilities for CultureCon, which can range from coordinating food trucks to securing hospitality partners and producing merchandise and collateral for the events.

Favorite CultureCon Moment: The event debrief with the team is always such a highlight, because you get to learn all the wacky and crazy moments everyone dealt with to bring such a big event to life! 

What Being “Unbothered” Means To Her: Choosing what matters to you, even if it goes against the grain or isn’t trendy, and letting all the other noise fade away.

I’ve had the pleasure of watching the CCNYC grow since its inception! From gatherings in a one-bedroom apartment to watching over 2,000 people attend the third ever CultureCon. When I quit my corporate job back in Fall 2018, I threw myself into helping plan CultureCon 2018 and moved into a more formal position with the CCNYC after that, leading up planning and logistics of our monthly community events in addition to event production responsibilities for CultureCon!

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I’ve been lucky to know the founder of the CCNYC, Imani Ellis, for over 10 years. My initial interest in the burgeoning community stemmed from wanting to support her goals and creative development as a friend. I think when it all started we had no idea what a powerful platform it would become! As the community of creatives continued to grow, I started to see the level of personal impact the programming had on creative people of color, and that really motivated me to bring my skillset and efforts to help grow this space that was serving what we were beginning to understand as a unique need in the creative community.

There is something incredibly powerful to sit in the audience and hear someone who maybe looks like you, comes from a similar background as you, has experienced the same struggles as you tell you that, “Creative success is possible. You’re worthy of being in the rooms you’re invited to...You bring value.” I think CultureCon provides that reinforcement, empowerment, and connection for so many black/brown creatives that may not find it in their 9-5 jobs or personal lives.

Prior to working with the CCNYC, I was working full-time in corporate events and communications. While I think that experience laid the foundation for a lot of what I bring to the CultureCon team as a worker, I l [have] personal interests in taking care of people. I think I’ve been described as the “house mom/grandma” of the team before, because I like to make sure everyone is fed at our meetings and events.

Working with so many incredible, talented, and bad-ass women is legit the BEST PART of it all. I really struggled with professional confidence A LOT in my previous jobs, but being in an environment with supportive female peers has helped me see myself in a more positive light. We’re constantly celebrating each others’ successes and great ideas, while also understanding that we’re all still young, growing professionals that are learning how to navigate the world and work together.

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Simone Arrington

Member Since: 2018

Role: CultureCon Programming Lead

What She Does: I’ve worked on the talent and programming team where I was able to discover and book top tier talent, influencers, and thought leaders as well as develop concepts for the panel discussion being held on both stages.

Favorite CultureCon Moment: Interviewing podcasting greats like Phoebe Robinson and Andrew Hawkins, and Anchor executive Jessica Angeles about how up-and-coming podcasters can optimize and monetize their content successfully. A dream is an understatement!

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Black Girl Mantra: “When women affirm women, it unlocks our power. It gives us permission to shine brighter.” — Elaine Welteroth

What Being “Unbothered” Means To Her: Being “unbothered” means being fearless in every sense of the word and every way you show up in life.

I attended the first CultureCon in 2017. I fell in love with the organization and what it stood for. I just moved to NYC two weeks before, and attending the conference and already felt like I found the tribe of people I wanted to surround myself with. I started volunteering for their monthly community events at the end of 2017. An opportunity to become an assistant came about and I started officially working with the team the summer of 2018. In 2019, I transitioned into a role that allowed me to work on creating monthly events for the community as well as work with the talent and programming team for CultureCon. I’m really passionate about putting on for people of color in positions to learn, grow and express themselves and being a part of the CCNYC allows me to do just that.

CultureCon is an embodiment of representation in every sense of the word. Being in a space where you can learn from, connect to, and vibe with other like minded black and brown creatives across industries, no matter how big or small, is an experience I believe you won’t find at this caliber anywhere else.  

I’ve worked on the talent and programming team where I was able to discover and book top tier talent, influencers, and thought leaders as well as develop concepts for the panel discussion being held on both stages. I’m looking forward to the continuation of bridging the gap between the community and the culture.

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Outside of CultureCon, I work as a Marketing Manager at a major media/tech company as well as host my own podcast called Bonnets & Durags: A Pillow Talk Podcast. Both roles have allowed me to stay on top of current trends, creating strategies for key target audiences, engage with social media users, and have an overall sense of what’s most important to online communities. Because I am able to keep a pulse on the culture, it has informed my insight on what the community is directly looking for and needs to feel fulfilled. Being in a position to dictate the conversation and the experience our community has is invaluable.

It’s so refreshing to be able to be in a room full of women (and a few men) who completely get it. Walking into each meeting or event with the team always feels like I’m entering a safe space. It’s a celebration every time we link up! 

CultureCon is going to be a household name in five years. Just wait on it! I also hope that I would’ve relinquished my fear of public speaking and that I’ll be doing a fireside chat with Queen Bey herself at CultureCon 2025.

Tequilla White

Member Since: 2017

Role: CultureCon Press Lead

What She Does: I work with the media to share our story and the work we all do as a collective to effect change in our community. I use my passion for storytelling to show how we are creating brave spaces and changes the way conferences are produced. 

Favorite CultureCon Moment: I would say it would be after this last CultureCon before the team went on stage to thank everyone for coming. We all got together and looked in pure amazement and exhaustion. We were so proud of the work we had done and just felt so full. 

Black Girl Mantra: “If you stay ready, you ain’t got to get ready.”

What Being “Unbothered” Means To Her: Standing in you my truth and standing up for those who don’t have a voice. Unapologetically.

I volunteered at one of the very early events, a networking mixer. When Imani and I met, we instantly connected and she asked what I did because we had similar “take initiative” energies. I told her that I was a publicist and we bonded over that. Shortly after that Imani asked if I wanted to be a part of the team and I jumped at the chance. Social impact is a huge part of my “why,” and I loved that I would now have the opportunity to create space and elevate the people who I cared for the most. 

Access. Representation. Community. Those are the main reasons that spaces like CultureCon are necessary and important. When we are provided with access to resources, we see ourselves reflected in an authentic way and we can bond through that experience we are truly able to elevate to our highest selves. CultureCon allows for that to take place and we do it all while having fun. 

It is so amazing to be able to work with a team who just gets it. You don’t have to overly explain why certain things won’t work and everyone is in it for the empowerment of us. Having a team that is made up of all parts of the diaspora allows for us to all contribute different perspectives and think for all of our attendees. We have this special bond growing something at such a quick pace and that makes it a joy to watch. 

I’ve learned not to limit myself. Being a part of something that has scaled so big so fast has shown me what can happen when really qualified, really smart, really hard working people come together. It has given me a pride and confidence that I use when approaching new clients in my own business. 

I see us continuing to grow and touch creatives of color around the country. Even around the world. Staying humble and always working from a place of gratitude. 

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