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1st Annual ‘A-list Speaker Series’ hosted in Chicago

A positive, inspiring and optimistic headline regarding the city’s young people of color was written this past weekend, as a rare panel discussion featuring elite Hollywood industry insiders with local roots was successfully convened here.

The first annual A-List Speaker Series (ALSS) was hosted on Saturday, September 10 at the Thorne Auditorium of Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, attracting and engaging an audience of hundreds of young people of color from across the city.  The event, which was free and open to the public, was themed “Matching Aspiring Young Adults with Hollywood’s Elite,” and was conceived with the goal of empowering participants with strategies enabling them to take better control of their past, present and future success within the lucrative business.

“The A-List Speaker Series grew out of my desire to show Chicago’s young people of color real models of success,” said Imani Khayyuh, the program’s creator and producer. “We want our youth who are interested in achieving success in the arena of film and television to not only see black and brown people who are movers and shakers, but also to connect them to real opportunities and plug them in with these influencers.” The days’ program began with entertainment performed by spoken word artist Keya “Gifted Keys” Trammell, followed by opening remarks from Ms. Khayyuh, before being ably moderated by spirited WMAQ-TV entertainment reporter LeeAnn Trotter.

The panel discussion included such Chicago native luminaries as Emmy Award-winning producer and 20-year veteran TV studio executive Michael Swanson, keynote speaker; joined on-stage by writer-director Carl Seaton, also of Chicago; writer, producer, director and Chicagoan Natasha Parker; Pepe Vargas, founder and executive director of the International Latino Cultural Center’s “Chicago Latino Film Festival,” noted director-filmmaker Clarence “Coodie” Simmons and costume designer Michael Alan Stein, hailing from New York City, serving as guest panelists.

Each detailed their unique journeys from Chicago to successful big and small screen careers, imparting pearls of sage wisdom and career advice that the youth attendees could have gotten nowhere else. They also dialogued about the “business behind the business” and concluded with an engaging Q&A session with the riveted audience.

The A-List Speaker Series is targeted to youth and young adult attendees ranging in age from 13 to 24. The event, a motivational series geared to inspire black and brown youth and young adults from across the city, offers practical strategies to achieve success in the entertainment business, exploring topics that include Diversification, Brand-Building, Education vs. Real-Life Experience, Mentorship and Professional Guidance, Legal Issues, Reading and Understanding Contracts and Working with An Agent. Sponsors for the 2016 program included Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, Northwestern University, the Gene Siskel Film Center, NBC5 Chicago and Sir & Madame Chicago.

About the A-List Speaker Series

The A-List Speaker Series (ALSS) works to connect aspiring young adults in Chicago with the Hollywood film and entertainment industry’s elite. Free and open to the public, the first-time event projects to attract more than 700 attendees and sponsor-partners. The mission of the event and its organizers is to inspire and motivate young adults, as this becomes the foundation for them to build brighter futures. ALSS each year will invite African-American and Latino Hollywood insiders from within the lucrative talent, technology and business arenas to share their journeys to success with youth in the burgeoning Midwest entertainment market. For more information, visit:, or contact us via e-mail at info@-

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