9-5, 5-9: Imani Ellis
Words: Lakin Starling
Images: Karston Tannis
Images: Karston Tannis
For those who love the grind, there’s no such thing as a day job or night shift. From PR work at a major television network to organizing monthly networking events for young professionals, Imani Ellis is on from 9-5 to 5-9.
“I’ve always wanted to be wherever the people are,” Imani Ellis says. For the Georgia native, being amongst people is merely the start. Where Imani truly shines is in illuminating the opportunities for connections with people. It’s this intrinsic skill that makes her a great publicist, a role where she has thrived. The 27-year old Georgia native is an entertainment publicist, representing stars from some of the most popular shows on television. But as her career grew, so to did her passion for connecting people. To fulfill that desire, she leads the Creative Collective NYC, an innovative networking platform that requires as much time as her day job.
The seeds for Imani’s career were planted during her tenure in college, where she explored her lifelong love for entertainment through campus involvement and media internships. During a semester at the Creative Artist Agency, Imani’s supervisor told her she would excel at PR. She followed his advice and began working as a PAGE at a major television channel. She accepted an offer after her May graduation in 2012, and within two months she was hired as a full-time entertainment publicist.
She noticed that for a business based on people, the industry lacked a genuine sense of community, especially among black creatives. To get closer to her peers, she went to events by four different New York collectives but found it hard to forge authentic bonds. “I went to all of them and they were booming on Instagram but in real life, I just didn’t feel the humanity,” Imani says. “It always felt very sterile.”
The void inspired Imani to create the space she was looking for on her own. In January 2016, she organized a gathering at her Harlem apartment and invited 10 of her closest friends to come eat and catch up. While fellowshipping, Imani asked each person to share an idea about a current personal or professional project and required the rest of the room to give feedback. The functions became monthly meet-ups with turnouts that quickly grew from small groups to crowds of up to 50 people all crammed in Imani’s living room. “It was raw energy and people left knowing that they weren’t the only ones who thought a certain way or felt discouraged, so we kept doing it,” Imani says.
That same year in June, Imani and her co-founders officially named the group, The Creative Collective NYC, and held their first event in collaboration with CRWN Mag. By June of the same year, Imani began working off the clock to officially launch the innovative networking platform. It’s a chance for her to reimagine the idea of an expert community through monthly events that encourage building skills and relationships through intimate workshops and exercises.
The Creative Collective Night School event hosts some of the brightest young black professionals in the industry. They learn from a roster of experts on topics ranging from navigating digital image software, crafting a business model, and how to make the perfect avocado toast. The breakout sessions are packed with inquisitive millennials who are all deeply engaged with the leader of their respective quick course. Imani is very involved in the evening program and is known to work the room during the networking portion of some of the sessions, introducing herself and making connections.
Imani is very intentional about the speakers that she selects for each event, but the welcoming atmosphere and its wellspring of knowledge is what brings the real spark to the experience. So how does one avoid the pretentiousness of networking and recreate it with an inviting energy? “There’s always an ice breaker,” Imani says. “I want people to ask questions about each other versus ‘What do you do?’ and ‘What can you do for me?’ No one wants that. You might exchange emails but it’ll never be a lasting relationship.”
The CCNY has put on over 20 successful events, bringing together hundreds of black creatives. Imani claims she doesn’t have a calculated approach to thriving in a day job and hustle, but as she continues to soar as a publicist, she says it’s key to keep the 9-5 first: “It cannot be compromised.” But pushing through the difficult moments of juggling both also reveals the value and importance of the after hours project.
Imani and her team meet bi-weekly, which is a big commitment for these striving 20-somethings. The CCNY committee is comprised of eight of Imani’s friends, who all combine their sundry of 9-5 expertise and personal gifts to keep the collective running. “It’s amazing to pull talent and have these people as your friends. It’s this idea that everything we need is within us,” Imani says. They’ve devoted countless hours and weekends to the vision, but she says running her CCNY enterprise should always be a fun process.
As Imani continues to advance in all of her endeavors she certainly has a self-driven tenacity, but when it comes to increasing nourishing spaces for black folks, she accredits those triumphs to the people she brings together with sincere advice: “Don’t overlook your friends.”