Reunion Co-Founder Elijah McKinnon On Gratitude, Imagination, and Manifesting a World Outside Oppression
Written by Vocalo Radio on June 24, 2019
Chicago is a city known for its creative community of artists, activists and influencers.
In our ongoing series, “This Is What Chicago Sounds Like,” we feature the voices and people who contribute to our city’s rich cultural diversity. This month, we celebrate Pride.
In this installment, we hear from Elijah McKinnon. Elijah is the Co-Founder of Reunion Chicago, an art gallery, event space and project incubator located in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. Reunion’s mission is to provide a collaborative and grounding environment for queer people of color and femme-identified individuals in creative roles.
Where in Chicago do you live?
I live in the colorful neighborhood of Humboldt Park. I inherited my apartment from a couple of witches. When I first moved to Chicago, I was staying in an attic that was owned by two witches. And after a couple of months, they were like, “Hey, you need to get your own place” — ever so kindly, you know, as witches will. And I was like, “Well, where should I move? And they said, “Well, you should move next door.” And I said, “Well, that would be great. But there needs to be a place available.” And they’re like, “Well, there’s a place available. It’s within your budget.” And the next day, they set up a walkthrough and I got the keys that afternoon. So… love the witches.
What has it been like growing up and living in Chicago as a member of the LGBTQIA community?
What I think about my experience here in Chicago, one thing that I’ve learned about the LGBTQ+ community is this sense of family. And I think a lot of people often refer to, you know, queer folks and LGBTQ+ folks as chosen family, right? Not the biological family. But I like to challenge that and push that, because I don’t really think I had an option to choose the family that has embraced me here — I really think that they chose me. It really is a privilege to be in a space that has held me so compassionately and warmly through my time here. The LGBTQ+ community here is resilient, and it is steeped in so much history, I think, that doesn’t get a lot of attention compared to New York or San Francisco.
How has the city shaped you and your art, career, mission, etc.?
My Chicago is colorful. It is rich and diverse. And it has a pulse that runs so deeply in my veins and connects me back to a source that I never knew I needed or wanted. I love the strength that Chicago has; there’s something about the winters and there’s something about having to put on this armor that not only protects you, but also gives you this, like, super strength and this superpower to prevail. Then there’s this release during the spring… more like summer [laughter]. Where everyone is sort of in it together, no matter what your background or experiences. And I think that that’s just something that, you know, is not really prevalent on the East Coast and definitely not prevalent on the West Coast. For me, what motivated me to live and move here was how dialed in the movements and liberation are for Black lives and queer lives. That was something that I had never really seen before and never had access to. Because of, you know, being on the East Coast and the West Coast. It’s really predominantly navigated through this white gaze, and in Chicago I just saw these Black and Brown beautiful bodies mobilizing for all of the things that I wanted to mobilize for. Moving here I got deep in it and I have never looked back.
How does the work you do give back to Chicago and LGBTQIA folks here in the city?
A lot of my work really is centered around unapologetically and wholeheartedly approaching projects and initiatives, specifically for nonprofits and grassroots organizations, to imagine a world that is completely removed from this system-oriented, capitalistic framework and completely independent. There’s no ceiling on our dreams. I think what I’ve learned from my practice being developed is how much of a privilege it is to serve. Right?! It’s an honor to be able to be in a position to provide and assist and help and support people that look like you, or don’t. And one thing that I’ve learned from being here in Chicago is how important it is for me to be of service to people.
At the end of the day, what would you like to have given back to the community?
My work at Reunion is so special to me. You know, operating a space that prioritizes LGBTQ+ folk and communities of color to come together and create is unparalleled to any experience I have ever had the opportunity to be a part of. I think what’s super important right now is for anyone on the margins to have a space where they feel not so much safe, but brave… An opportunity to truly manifest a world that is outside of these systems of oppression. And Reunion is definitely not a utopia. But it is a space that is imagining what a world could look like outside of these oppressive systems. I really want people to know that my investment in my communities and the communities that I share identities with is not for optics. It’s for impact. I’m here, and I’m not going to be moved.
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Follow Elijah On Instagram
Photography by Seamus Doheny
Shot at Reunion
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