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Exclusive – Chatting to the ‘Gen Z Historian’ Kahlil Greene

The self-professed Gen Z historian, who uses content creation to channel his passion for history, social justice, and public speaking, educates young people on how to build their knowledge so as to best support the causes they care about most. We spoke to him about what this involves.

‘Everyone has a different way of enacting change,’ says Kahlil Greene. ‘For me, it’s educating.’

Exemplifying this statement, the 23-year-old began his journey as Yale’s first Black student body president, taking his expertise online after graduating.

Today, he goes by the moniker ‘Gen Z Historian’ on TikTok, Instagram, and LinkedIn, where he uses his far-reaching influence to generate awareness around social issues as they arise in real-time and inform his 730,000 followers on lesser-known historical moments and cultural movements.

@kahlilgreene Comment your favorite MLK quotes #mlk #mlkday #mlkday2021 #blm #politics inspired by @bobacommie ♬ Glory (From the Motion Picture Selma) – Common & John Legend

Aside from content creation, he is a correspondent on Nickelodeon’s Nick News series, has worked directly with the White House, authored numerous op-eds about organisational equity, and gives speeches to schools, non-profits, and corporations about young people’s standards for inclusion.

‘I see myself as a researcher and communicator primarily,’ he asserts. ‘I’m in the business of changing minds.’

But what exactly does this involve and when did Kahlil come to realise that pursuing this avenue for effecting tangible change at scale was his purpose in life? We had the chance to speak with him and find out.

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From realisation to purpose

Kahlil’s exposure to the injustices he would later go on to challenge began during childhood.

Despite being raised in America’s second most ethnically diverse town, he tells me that the K-12 public education system he was part of highlighted to him the existence of prevailing segregation and wealth disparity in his community.

In the US, schools are funded by local property taxes, which means that the more affluent the area, the better the facilities (and vice versa).

‘I went to a Title I institution that had to be propped up by the federal government because LPTs weren’t even enough to keep it going,’ says Kahlil.

This was a stark contrast to what followed – four years at a Magnet school where ‘everything was painted in gold.’

‘I saw upfront how race, class, and education are all so intricately tied,’ he says. ‘I would constantly ask myself why this was the case and why nobody was discussing it.’

As he explains, this is largely to do with people’s reluctance to accept that there are many factors beyond merit equating to success in our society.


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‘People are always quick to say that access to these spaces should be based on smarts alone, but in reality it’s who you know,’ says Kahlil, adding that his first week at Yale was when this truly caught his attention.

‘Seeing that some of my peers were so obviously at an advantage drove me to dig deeper, to investigate further, which then acted as the catalyst for my desire to vocalise my frustrations,’ he says.

‘It wasn’t until I became student body president, however, that I had a platform to do so.’

Elected in 2019, Kahlil tells me that before his term, the role was ‘sterile and corporate,’ that there had been few with the responsibility who were actually willing to distance themselves from the university’s power structures and adopt a hands on approach.

‘I was the activist president, impassioned to translate student power into change any way that I could’ he says. ‘I would regularly participate in protests and try my best to bring about progress on matters that were intrinsically linked to my identity.’

This, Kahlil most certainly achieved. Of his many successes (some 70 policy projects to be precise), the $57K he raised for BLM following the death of George Floyd and the removal of Yale’s A through F grading during the pandemic to guarantee his peers wouldn’t be unfairly penalised due to their home situation at that time are the most notable.

Both were showcased by national news and both, says Kahlil, would go on to launch his content creation story.

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The Gen Z Historian

Finding that he missed having his ‘views taken seriously’ post-presidency, Kahlil recognised that, going forward, he would need a viable method of expressing his thoughts to an audience.

Fortunately, on the back of this insight, an opportunity presented itself in the form of Trump’s administration suing Yale, accusing the university of doing too much to support students from underrepresented backgrounds.

In response, Kahlil wrote a piece for the Washington Post, stressing that the only solution to the problem would be ‘dispelling myths about affirmative action.’

This, he says, validated his calling to stand up against wrongdoings, and with TikTok’s precipitous rise to fame occurring simultaneously, Kahlil jumped on the content creation bandwagon, deeming it the next logical step in taking his advocacy to greater heights.

‘I saw the potential of this platform to spotlight the problematic moments in history that got us to the point we’re at now,’ he says.

@kahlilgreene Reply to @ratscarringpizzainthesub they thought black skin was thicker #hiddenhistory #blackhistory #americanhistory #conspiracytok ♬ Blade Runner 2049 – Synthwave Goose

‘My theory of change is that by educating my audience on this, they’ll come to the same conclusions on what needs to happen in order to tackle injustice in the US.’

Posting his first video to coincide with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Kahlil’s newfound determination to promote civil discourse on social media almost immediately garnered him over 1.4 million views.

Ever since, he’s been using this substantial reach to bolster widespread engagement with the cold hard facts, believing that it’s important to understand a system’s inner workings to sufficiently impact it.

This, he explains, requires an intersectional perspective, one he incorporates into all facets of his content.

‘A tenet of critical race theory is that race intermixes with other identities to create the issues that we have today,’ he says. ‘So I always look at race as an issue that compounds other identities.’

Most recently, through a series called Hidden History, Kahlil has extended his focus to culture, using his platform to question what he was taught in school.

‘The formula I developed to break down complex topics so they’re digestible is what I’m most proud of,’ he told the New York Times. ‘My main goal is to enlighten people to think about things in different ways and collect new knowledge that helps inform how they show up.’

Of course, the art of digital storytelling is no mean feat. Especially nowadays, with Gen Z spending half its waking hours watching videos, most of which they’ll have forgotten about just minutes later.

For this reason, Kahlil strives to make his content as well-researched and entertaining as possible.

‘I’ve had to learn how to be captivating and compelling while educating, which is a uniquely difficult thing to balance,’ he says.


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Regardless of this difficulty, however, there’s no denying that Kahlil has found his niche, which is debate and argumentation.

‘The ability to verbalise what you’re feeling, why something is an issue, and what the solution should be – especially when it relates to injustice – is what advocacy is,’ he continues. ‘I think very critically about my videos before I make them and feel comfortable going toe-to-toe with those who disagree.’

A prime example of this is Kahlil’s dedication to confronting cultural appropriation on TikTok, which is rife on the app.

Set on building a legacy of doing what’s right, he frequently calls out appropriated trends that have co-opted Black culture for clout and provides an accurate history of them, with the aim of correcting discriminatory structures where people can steal and face no repercussions.

‘The communities where these trends come from are facing systematic disenfranchisement,’ he says. ‘My initial conversation propelled the discussions around protections and these small measures that help them get recognition for their work.’


Beyond content creation

Bridging the gap between Gen Z and leading institutions, Kahlil also delivers keynote DEI addresses to companies about the changes they should make if they want to cater to a demographic with notoriously strong values.

‘We have very progressive thinking, which informs our employment and buying decisions,’ he says.

‘Transparency as a virtue is important because it allows for outside critique. When productive or constructive, this allows for betterment. Be aware of the issues at hand and communicate about how you’re assisting with solving them. Companies need to be checking their bias and looking into how they can diversify and counteract their innate prejudice.’

This encouragement to stay on top of bias echoes Kahlil’s feelings about the climate movement, which he says too often favours appearances over expertise.

In his opinion, it doesn’t seem fair that BIPOC activists particularly, ‘who are superhuman in terms of how much expertise they have,’ will be passed up for opportunities in favour of ‘white activists with less knowledge.’

@kahlilgreene This is for the people that still don’t get it! #aave #awkwafina #culturalappropriation #hiddenhistory #blackculture ♬ original sound – Gen Z Historian

To combat this, he says, as allies we must repeatedly criticise the absence of BIPOC in spaces designed to instigate change.

‘Get them in those rooms as well,’ he urges. ‘Call out the disparities within the climate conversation (and beyond) and continually spread the message that without the inclusion of each and every voice, there will be so many more problems later down the line.’

Without doubt, Kahlil is inspiring awareness-based change across the board. Leaving us with a final piece of sage advice, he urges anyone reading this to ‘follow what makes you so angry you have to change it.’

‘Find your fire. You have to have an emotional driver to guide you. Turn your active emotions – your sadness, dejection, hopelessness, frustration, and anger – into agency.’

‘What makes me angry is the prevailing ideology that things should be this way. I’ve used that anger to effect productive change in my community by educating people on the roots of the issues affecting society.’