Social media influencer Kahlil Greene has many claims to fame. But to most internet denizens, he’s known by a different name: The Gen Z Historian.
Greene was elected the first Black student body president at Yale in 2019, leads fundraising for social justice, and serves as an active member of his community. As a public educator, Greene hopes to link Gen Z and societal norms, educating on topics like diversity, equity and inclusion.
As The Gen Z Historian on social media platforms, Greene tries to acknowledge “forgotten” cultural history, in viral series like: “How Everything on This App Originated with Black People” and “Hidden History.”
YR Media sought out Kahlil Greene to learn about his story, the growing influence of social media, and how Gen Z can drive meaningful change.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Pranav Thurgam: Could you tell me about your current projects? How do they work and what makes them special?
Kahlil Greene: Half my job is content creation online. So this involves making videos, especially on TikTok and Instagram, relating to history, politics and culture. Especially surrounding marginalized communities, specifically the Black community in America.
And the other half of my work involves giving speeches, presentations and workshops to established organizations about diversity and inclusion — from a Gen Z perspective — incorporating a lot of standards that might’ve been radical in previous generations.
@kahlilgreene Find out what’s happened in the past 100 years #blackhistory #tulsaracemassacre #blm partnership with @Odyssey Impact ♬ original sound - Kahlil
PT: Can you tell us about a personal experience that you can credit for helping you find your path?
KG: So I realized I wanted to do this at the end of 2020, when TikTok really went viral, after the George Floyd murder. There were a lot of TED Talks about race and racism, and a lot of them were really good. But many touched on concepts that I already knew about, being a Black person studying racial history at Yale. So I wanted to jump in and give some takes that I wasn’t seeing, or at least I wasn't seeing communicated the way that I would hope to.
PT: Is there a void in your field, and have you seen your contributions filling that need?
KG: I think there's a void in identifying cultural history to things that we take for granted, whether it be slang like ‘on fleek’ or even mannerisms like the ‘ice in my veins’ pose that go viral on TikTok. But they’re still stigmatized and criminalized when Black people do them as people who originated these concepts.
PT: How can Gen Z drive meaningful change?
KG: Personally, I'm able to use social media to talk about different aspects of Black culture and history that are really important to me. Activism really only manifests into actual solutions if people follow through. So I think following through in the causes you care about is helpful and actually seeing something change.
PT: How do you think that current methods of advocacy are different from how it's been done in previous generations?
KG: They reach a wider amount of people in a short amount of time, which I think is a lot of the goals of previous movements and protests.
Of course, there's different options for engagement. Maybe 50% of the people who come across the same statement are just liking it or sharing their story. But if that 50% is 100,000 people, and 10,000 are actually going to the website, even if only 5,000 of them join the cause, you're still reaching a lot of people.
PT: What would you say to people who may think that online forms of advocacy are not valid?
KG: Whether it be #BlackLivesMatter or #metoo, the most influential and significant social movements of our lifetimes have been on social media. And we see impact on legislation, real world protests, social changes and just awareness coming from those.
PT: What inspires you in making a video?
KG: I'm inspired when I see a debate on social media that I want to engage in, or that I feel like isn’t being represented in conversation I have with friends. For example, if we're disagreeing on something or if we strongly agree on something that other people might disagree on.
PT: Do you have any other advice for folks who want to break into work like yours, either producing videos or being allies?
KG: It just goes back to reading and writing. You have to research to understand what you're talking about, and you have to write a lot to produce content.
If you look at most of the civil rights heroes and leaders that we might refer to in our everyday conversation, a lot of those people were authors, orators or intellectuals in one way or another. It doesn't take going to an Ivy League school or college, it's just being curious and using the platforms available to you.