Multi-talented artist, advocate, and creative leader Elijah McKinnon — who is from the future — joins the 2020 Reel Chicago Black List, an annual celebration of African-American creativity published during Black History Month.
The Reel Chicago Black List includes Global Mixx founder Mary Datcher, House Music pioneer Vince Lawrence, and filmmaker Rhyan LaMarr. To view the archives, click here.
Elijah McKinnon is an award-winning strategist, creative director, entrepreneur, artist, and advocate from the future currently residing on planet earth.
In addition to serving as the Founder and Director of People Who Care, Inc. — an independent consultancy that works exclusively with nonprofits and grassroots initiatives around the globe — Elijah is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of OTV – Open Television, an intersectional web TV platform.
Elijah is also the Co-Founder and Development Director of Reunion Chicago, an exhibition space and project incubator in Chicago prioritized for LGBTQ+ people and communities of color in creative roles.
Elijah’s artistic practice and advocacy work centers around the intersection between trauma, wellness, race, sexuality and gender.
Their work explores themes of space-making, liberation, and resilience as seen in their highly acclaimed web series, Two Queens in a Kitchen, a turn-to-relevance cooking show in its third season exploring art, culture and politics; and their series developed in partnership with University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill and Duke University, Good Enough, a limited digital series exploring coming out, chosen family, depression, and sexual health.
Elijah’s professional, artistic, and advocacy work have been covered by the Chicago Tribune, Out Magazine, Afropunk, VICE, HBO, CBS and many more.
In 2016 Elijah was named “Top 30 Under 30 LGBT People” in Chicago, Illinois by the Windy City Times and was invited to the first annual African-American LGBTQ Education Summit at The White House.
They are constantly moving and shaking in an attempt to build meaningful relationships and encourage resource sharing. Keep up with them and their jaunts around the world at elijah.is/happy or on instagram.
In 2019, Elijah became the first Executive Director of OTV – Open Television, a web TV platform for intersectional art and artist where they have plans to launch the OTV Curriculum, the OTV App and much more this year.
In 2018, Elijah was commissioned by University of North Carolina and Duke University to develop a limited digital series called Good Enough for a research study and app called P3.
Meet Elijah McKinnon
What are you working on right now?
Oh my! What a question. My practice has evolved and I don’t feel like “work” accurately describes my approach to life. On a good day, I wake up and have people, places, and things that I am accountable to and for but it doesn’t feel like labor. And on a not so good day, I prioritize my mental, emotional and spiritual state in attempt to get back to a place that is centered and rooted in cultivating joy. Pleasure over duty is my ultimate goal.
At the moment, in true Aries-fashion, I’m juggling many projects, initiatives and creative pursuits. For the sake of time (and YOUR sanity) here are my top three commitments that are sparking joy in my life!
1. As the Founder/Creative Director of People Who Care, I’m in the process of wrapping up a year-long rebrand initiative for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago! This project is near and dear to my heart as AFC is one of my longest clients. I started off as a Digital Comms Coordinator in 2015, helped build and launch the internationally acclaimed campaign, PrEP4Love in 2016 and now I have the privilege of creating their new brand identity to commemorate their 35 year anniversary! #fullcircle.
2. Last year, I transitioned into my role as Executive Director of OTV – Open Television, an intersectional web-TV platform arguably distributing some of the best indie content in the world (in my opinion). After helping create and build this beautiful platform for intersectional artists over the past few years it is a true honor to usher the non-profit into a truly global glow-up. In my new position I’m working with my tribe to build out international programs and initiatives such as #BraveFuturesFilmRace, develop out the first OTV Curriculum and launch the OTV App that will be available on Apple TV, Roku and Android TV this summer.
3. This year, I backed flipped into a new role as Development Director of Reunion Chicago, a project incubator and sliding scale venue prioritized for LGBTQ+ and communities of color. I’m very excited for all of the magic we are cooking up thanks to a few grants we received to continue doing this important work. I’m most excited about the talk show styled event we’re launching called “You’re Welcome” and “Thank You for the Note” a shark-tank styled feedback series designed for emerging creative laborers and artists to elicit feedback and “notes” from the community.
Oh yeah, and for the past few months I’ve been living in South Africa where I’ve Executive Produced #BraveFutures, the first 48 hour intersectional film race; Craft Service, an experimental talk show; and Sable Chameleon, a web TV pilot. I also wrote, produced ADd my first film tilted, THANDO!
What did you originally want to be when you grow up?
I was hell-bent on being a lawyer, specifically a sports-medicine lawyer. I competed in speech and debate for 4 years in high school. I was pretty good. I won a few state championships and competed in a few national tournaments. A lot of people don’t know this but I secured a full-ride scholarship to a prestigious law school but I turned it down the day I was supposed to start, took a few months off and somehow ended up in art school — hands down the best decision of my life.
How did you get into film and the intersectional television industry?
TV has always been a big part of my life. Growing up in a lower-middle class family, television was a cheap and accessible thrill. I remember gathering weekly with my mom and my sister to watch shows like Six Feet Under, Queer and Folk and Girlfirends. In hindsight, many of these shows shaped me. My friend and sister-in-slayage, Denayja Reese often joke about the fact that television essentially raised us after the death of our parents.
As for intersectionality, I’m from the Bay Area. Intersectionality was instilled in my brain and blood before it became a buzzword for marginalized folks, or what I like to call an optical illusion for capital-driven organizations. I was raised by Black woman and femmes who taught me that the only way to get free is to liberate the most marginalized people and that included black women and black TGNC folks. Period. In my opinion, these communities are single handedly responsible for designing culture and breaking boundaries. As I’ve expanded my knowldge around queer and black femisist rhetoric, i’ve become more commited, brave and vigilent of my role in creating revolutionary opportunitires to critque the status quo and build alternative realaities — right now that is through my work with OTV, in few years that can be an intergralaitic spaceship. I’m hopeful.
Who were your mentors?
I’m a strong advocate for non-hierarchical learning dynamics. We all have gifts that bring value. I like to call them friend-tors (friends that also indulge in mentorship form time-to-time). The friend-tors that have helped me become more deliberate in my purpose are Miah Jeffra and Kamilah Rashied. I don’t often credit white men but Miah Jeffra is one of the most influential people in my professional career. During university, I took a class of his called “Creative Action for Social Change.” In this class he exposed me to my capability of utilizing all of the capitalistic techniques I had learned from the artworld for advocating on behalf of causes and initiatives I believe in. As for Kamilah Rahsied, in addition to being a boss and holding down her Queendom, she has taught me one of the most influential concepts about influence: “Leadership is Ordained.”
What is your greatest achievement?
I look at all of my achievements equally. If I had to choose one, I think it would have to be choosing to pursue a sober lifestyle after a decade of substance abuse and addiction. It’s been a choice that has changed my life and opened so many portals to liberation, clarity and purpose.
What is your greatest disappointment?
In true diva fashion I don’t have any disappointments or regrets. Every decision and action I have made has led me to the place I needed to be, whether it was desired or not. I’m in a committed practice of having little to no expectations or assumptions which has made me a stronger, more compassionate person. Thanks to years of therapy I have grown to understand that the best way to seek a healthy and fulfilled life is by remaining present through the good, bad and not-so-cute (because there is nothing ugly about LIFE).
With all that being said, I’m a bit saddened by the fact that I allowed supremacy culture to convince me that my pure, queer, black and non-binary existence wasn’t a gift to this earth for so long.
Name your biggest pet peeves.
The three D’s In particular order:
1. Dishonest people
2. Dirty kitchens
3. Disorganized projects/initiatives
What are your predictions for online TV networks over the next decade?
In the next decade, I predict online TV will be brave, unapologetic, and intersectional.
Name a job you had that would surprise people.
When I was university I took a temp job as a security team member at San Francisco State University where for a week I rode a Segway around campus and read 1984 by Geroge Orwell and Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. Don’t ask.
What do you wish you had more time to do?
I really wish I had more time to spend with my nibbling Saige. They are nine and live in Colorado. My practice keeps me constantly on the move and it is often difficult for me to visit them. Thankfully they are reaching an age where i can send for them to come visit me and that brings me a lot of joy. Also: I’m going to start a little vlog dedicated just to him called “You Have to Go to Sleep To Wake Up” that will document my shenanigans around the globe, share life hacks and inspire them to do everything on purpose.
What motivates you to create?
Me! I motivate myself to seek inspiration in the simple act of being present. In my short lifespan I’ve endured many experiences that could have deterred my path but instead of trying to “overcome” I’ve allowed those moments to expand me, turning pain into a genuine awareness of self. My resilience and capacity to hold emotional space for me and the people that I share identities with inspires me to dive deeper and better understand my purpose on this plane. I am here to serve.
Also: Black children smiling and living beautiful, uninhibited lives brings an uncontrollable amount of joy from the inner depths of my soul. Smile.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you share with your younger self?
I truly believe that I am from the future and my mission for returning to this time is simple: be present. A lot of my practice revolves around forecasting, looking to the future and creating liberatory frameworks for platforms or concepts that don’t exist. Often times it makes it difficult to remain grounded in the here and now. In short, I believe that I travel back in time each day to remind myself to breathe easy, remain deliberate and make room for non-transactional joy.