Kayne Kawasaki is a UK based TikTok star and commentator from Peckham, South London. Since starting on TikTok, the former teacher who creates videos on Black History and culture has amassed over 850k video views collectively, given a TEDx Talk and has consulted for English Heritage and Notting Hill Carnival.
Sky HISTORY spoke to Kayne about the challenges and rewards of running a successful TikTok account. He also revealed his one piece of advice for aspiring creators.
Sky HISTORY: How did you first get into TikTok?
Kayne Kawasaki: What got me started was George Floyd in 2020 and Black Lives Matter which ricocheted throughout the world. Beforehand, I was a teacher, and I thought: 'I've got all of this knowledge of Black History and I think it's about time to start sharing it.'
I wasn't sure how to go about it, I was familiar with Instagram and TikTok was a fairly newish platform to me at the time. So, I thought I'd put something on there, give it a try and see how it goes. From there I began to see that traction building quite quickly.
I set myself a challenge in October 2020 to post about a black figure every single day that people should know or check out. I'm not sure if it was the commitment or the consistency but something worked, and the traction started to build. I realised that this platform is not just for Gen Z and dancing videos, there's room for Black History which I never thought about at the time.
It must have been challenging creating one video a day, what was your process?
Initially, I had no idea how the app works. I just worked on what I thought would look good. When you think about history and documentaries, you're presented with visuals from the past, but there's no one from the present to connect with you. So, I felt I don't want it to just be voiceover and images, I wanted to have my face in it. That's how I kind of started with my creative process at least.
What is it about TikTok that makes it a good platform for education?
I feel with TikTok, Gen Z has dismantled that idea of having to be perfect, like on Instagram where everything is polished. For me, it was a place to have fun and relax, but at the same time there are niche creators that you can learn from.
What's one piece of advice you would give an aspiring TikToker?
As I said, I did 31 videos in 31 days. That's a commitment, especially at the time, as I had a full-time job. One thing I always say is that with anything: be it going to the gym or learning to swim, you always give it at least a year. Then you'll start to see the fruits of that commitment.
So, for any aspiring TikTokers, I would say just give it a year. It might happen sooner, it may happen after that, but give it a year to refine your craft and take it from there.
Which TikTok are you most proud of?
The videos that I'm most proud of are the ones where I've done a lot of digging and found stuff that isn't necessarily on the internet.
For instance, there's a development in Battersea called 'Plantation Wharf' and there was a lot of discussion in the news about its name being inappropriate. My video is unique in the fact that all the research is my own. It isn't borrowed from any other journalist or newspaper, and I managed to dig into the archives. Also, I'm proud of 'Slavery and the Bank' which still performs well on the platform.
You must have covered a huge range of impressive figures from Black History, who stood out for you and why?
The person who stood out for me the most is probably the first person that got me interested in UK Black History.
I'm originally from Peckham and near my house where I went to school, there was a blue plaque dedicated to Dr Harold Moody. He was a black man who lived in Peckham in the early 1900s. He was a physician who came to the UK and was denied work in King's College Hospital. So, he set up his own practice.
When World War Two broke out, he was very much on the frontline. A V2 rocket hit the neighbouring area of New Cross, and hundreds were injured. He was the first doctor on the scene because his practice was so close.
He was the first person that I learned about who was a UK-based black person. In school, I'd learn about Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, but Dr Moody was the first person that I came across. He was one of the first videos that I did when I started my channel.
You've had a lot of success with your channel. What's a highlight for you?
A milestone moment for me was getting my own billboard put up by TikTok literally a year into creating. Seeing my face on a billboard up and down the country was amazing. There was a billboard in my hometown. It was at the Peckham bus garage.
A second one was my TEDx Talk, which was quite challenging because having to remember 15 minutes' worth of speech and dialogue was a task.
What do your former pupils think of their old teacher being a TikTok star?
Every Thursday, I go live on TikTok and occasionally, I'll get someone saying: 'That's my teacher'. When I see previous students out on the street, they have nice and positive things to say. Part of that is being able to see yourself reflected in a classroom space, which I think is important. Ultimately, I was taught in Peckham so then going to teach there, I understood the nuances of what some of these children need.
As a former educator, do you have an opinion on how Black History is taught in schools?
Wales is the only part of the UK where Black History is taught compulsorily and I think it's about time England follows suit. The benefit of that is ensuring that every child has a standardised form of education. I'd want it to focus on UK Black History because ultimately, it's British history.
What have you learned about Black History from running your TikTok channel?
When you're a niche creator, you initially think: 'Am I going to run out of stories and ideas?' But one thing it has taught me is that there is so much history to honour. I've been doing this since 2020 and I have not run out of things to say.
How can people get involved in supporting Black History Month?
So many things are going on, but I feel like sometimes it happens in pockets in isolation. That's why I value my channel because I feel like I have a platform to take some of these amazing things that are going on and bring them to the forefront. So, I would say look out for creators that you can follow that bring these things forward where you know, there is an opportunity to support.
What are you doing for Black History Month?
Black History Month is always exciting for me. I just have so many things coming up. I’m putting out a podcast and I'm doing a series of UK Black History posters for our schools and our institutions.
The posters are graphic reworks of pivotal UK Black History, of the figures and pioneers that everybody should know about such as Dr Harold Moody. So, the idea for me is to literally bring those people into schools and effectively help our teachers because as we know it's not standardised.
For more articles about Black History, check out Sky HISTORY's Black History Month hub.