CultureCon: Building wealth for creatives of color

Silicon Valley origin stories begin in someone’s garage or basement. For Imani Ellis, her one-bedroom Harlem apartment was the birthplace of The Creative Collective NYC and CultureCon.

She invited a few friends over to talk about developing a space where creatives of color could “show up as their whole selves, pour into each other, and water the seeds of their wildest dreams,” she said.

CultureCon was her wildest dream, which has since blossomed into a three-city tour with thousands of creatives and headliners such as John Legend, Tracee Ellis Ross, Will Smith, Lena Waithe, Kenya Burris, Taraji P. Henson, and Stacey Abrams.

This year, along with its mission to recognize the impact of creatives of color on moving the culture forward, Ellis also wanted to emphasize legacy and wealth building as a way to close the racial wealth gap.

“I want CultureCon to provide the blueprint and ecosystem for wealth creation among creatives of color,” Ellis told Yahoo Money. “I want creatives to have actionable toolkits and resources for building generational wealth and their business to scale — from hiring employees to handling taxes.”

One issue many headliners mentioned when it came to building wealth was a lack of financial literacy. WomenBlack, and Hispanic communities are especially at risk when it comes to wealth creation due to the gender pay gap and the racial wealth gap.

Financial literacy is associated with less spending, better short-term planning such as an emergency fund, and strongly correlated with financial capability, according to a FINRA Foundation study.

“The issue of generational wealth is an important topic for the community because that’s not something we talk about and one that I will ask panelist, Lena Waithe, so the entire CultureCon audience benefits,” Elaine Welteroth, former editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue, told Yahoo Money on the red carpet.

“Wealth is something I didn’t understand coming from a working-class family — just be frugal, so the first thing was to admit that I don’t know about money, taxes, getting an LLC, or generational wealth,” Lena Waithe, actor, producer, writer and founder of Hillman Grad production company, told CultureCon. “In our industry, it’s still taboo to talk about money, but I wasn’t embarrassed to ask questions as I expanded my career.”

“I’m still not an expert but I asked the rich white guys, ‘what are you doing to have your money make money?’ If you want to be an ally, then tell us the secrets to creating wealth,” Waithe said. “That’s the journey that I’ve been on to educate myself because the business is still set up for us to lose.”

Waithe pointed out similarities between show business and the music industry regarding lack of ownership of intellectual property (IP). Even today, she doesn’t get residuals from her shows that are streaming. Even though there are more creators of color in the industry, there is still a disconnect when it comes to ownership and how creatives are paid for their IP.

Being a first-generation wealth creator comes with immense responsibility and pressure to break bad financial habits.

“I had a debilitating relationship with money because I grew up without it, so when I started to make money my mindset was I need to see my money, save it, keep my money hidden in my house, and no banks,” Raven B. Varona, celebrity photographer, told CultureCon at the Building Black Wealth panel hosted by Stackwell Capital. “I was scared to spend any money and lacked financial literacy to make my money grow beyond just working more.”

An aversion to banks and the financial industry isn’t new within communities of color. Approximately 28% of Black Americans believe that financial institutions aren’t trustworthy, according to a survey on Black investors by Ariel-Schwab.

A lack of financial literacy and how to make money grow was a sentiment echoed by other headliners.

“I’m just a country boy from Texas, nobody talked about money or getting equity,” Ty Hunter, stylist to Beyoncé, told Yahoo Money. “It’s scary, especially for the younger generation, because they’re making a lot of money at a young age from social media. Financial literacy and wealth creation are conversations that we need in our community.”

For first-generation wealth creators, there can be a struggle with the concept of having money and making money work for them through the power of compound interest and the stock market.

When it comes to building wealth, don’t be afraid to ask questions because financial literacy is key.

“Be smart, get a financial advisor, and a good attorney,” Tabitha Brown, actress and Vegan food influencer, told Yahoo Money.

Ronda is a personal finance senior reporter for Yahoo Money and attorney with experience in law, insurance, education, and government.

Follow her on Twitter @writesronda Read the latest personal finance trends and news from Yahoo Money. Follow Yahoo Finance on TwitterInstagramYouTubeFacebookFlipboard, and LinkedIn

Ronda Lee
Founder, Editor-in-Chief
Ronda is an attorney, writer, and entrepreneur. She is a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Originally from Chicago, she has lived in Los Angeles and New York. She loves to travel and is passionate about education equity, especially for first generation college students.