Kicking off Andover’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day programming, Kahlil Greene, the self-proclaimed “Gen-Z Historian” and Yale’s first Black student body president, spoke at All-School Meeting about ways to change people’s minds in a developing world on January 16.
As an activist on social media, Greene has accumulated 587.3k followers on TikTok since his first video titled “Non-Whitewashed MLK Quotes,” published on January 17, 2021. In his speech at ASM, Greene focused on how Gen-Z can influence and motivate activism by fostering dialogue by using social media.
Opening with his personal experience, Greene spoke on his goal for the speech and how his work with changing minds started out. He was drawn to his work by the experiences he’d had when he was studying in a magnet school in a racially divided environment.
“I’m in the business, and the work, and the game of changing minds… I had a lot of times where I was talking to people and speaking to people about pressing issues and they definitely didn’t see eye-to-eye with me. They, at times, made jokes about the Black people who were killed,” said Greene.
Growing up, Greene felt as though the way in which social justice advocates communicated did not appeal to younger audiences in the same way as commentators on the other side. As a result, he explained, many young people began to associate themselves with conservative ideologies that he currently works to change.
“Students would watch a lot of Ben Shapiro as well… The thing about these videos is that [they] would often be framed as a debate. The thing that frustrated me the most about these videos wasn’t even people like Ben Shapiro and other conservatives, but it was the fact that the people that represented the side I believe in often appear to have gotten ‘owned.’ They didn’t advocate in a way that was clearly communicated or that was understandable to me,” said Greene.
During the Q&A portion of the ASM, Christopher Savino ’24 asked Greene if there are times during which one should decide to agree to disagree. He feels that in certain situations, compromise is important when trying to enact change.
“[Greene] wants to reach out to the other side to kind of hear their opinions and try to change their opinions because that’s kind of what he does, but I think that the gap he left in his speech, and what I wanted to clarify with my question, was if he also considers that it’s worth making compromises in the sense of agreeing to disagree,” said Savino.
Though agreeing that compromise is important in some areas, Nahila Hutchinson ’24 noted that in regards to social and racial justice, “agreeing to disagree” is not a viable solution.
“There are definitely certain topics that aren’t worth arguing about, but I think Greene was getting at topics more related to the oppression of marginalized groups. On these issues, I agree with [Greene’s] sentiment that it’s impossible to ‘agree to disagree.’ But I don’t think that student [Savino] meant any harm, and I definitely don’t think anyone should hold it against them,” said Hutchinson.
While some students found Greene’s overall message insightful, they felt that it did not connect fully to the subject of MLK Day. Ajahla Jefferson ’24, Af-Lat-Am Co-President, felt as though his speech was off topic and did not teach students how to take action.
“I think that [the administration] brought him in being that he was closer to our age, and doing TikTok, and they thought his message would resonate. I felt like he didn’t really talk too much about big changes or how we can make big changes in our lives, he talked about little changes, which I think are really really important, but I don’t really recall him tying it back to like the whole important message of MLK Day,” said Jefferson.
Others, like Hutchinson, thought that Greene provided a comprehensive way for young people to get involved in activism and change. Hutchinson mentioned that his speech gave her ways to navigate potentially loaded conversations and had a particular relevance to facilitating discussions amongst the diverse Andover community.
“I really appreciated that Greene outlined a simple way for young activists to change minds. It’s easy to get caught up in emotions when it comes to political disagreements, but now I feel like I’m more prepared to navigate these conversations. His message is especially important at a place like Andover, where our identities and opinions are so diverse,” said Hutchinson.