Oral Historian & Educator
As an oral historian, Zaheer Ali believes that in order for us to tell powerful stories, we must first commit ourselves to listening to them, openly, actively, and deeply. For nearly two decades, he has worked as a listener, amplifier, and preserver of the stories of often marginalized voices. His oral history interviews have informed a Pulitzer Prize winning biography of Malcolm X, spawned a viral video on Muslim bakers, and inspired a critically acclaimed art installation. His current focus is on leveraging the power of American Muslim storytelling for social and cultural change, as Senior Fellow of the Pillars Fund’s Muslim Narrative Change Cohort for 2020, and as an Open Society Foundations Soros Equality Fellow for 2020-2021.
Previously, as Oral Historian at Brooklyn Historical Society, he directed several community-based initiatives that used the creative power of storytelling (and story-listening) to recover and preserve histories, affirm and celebrate communities, and engage and encourage intercultural exchange. Muslims in Brooklyn, the most recent initiative, is a public history and arts project designed to amplify the stories of Brooklyn’s Muslim communities and contextualize those stories in the broader histories of Brooklyn, New York City, and the United States. His work on the project was featured in a now viral video on the Muslim bean pie for Slate.com’s Who’s Afraid of Aymann Ismail? that has been viewed over 4.5 million times on Facebook, with over 60,000 shares. For three years, he also co-hosted and co-produced Flatbush + Main, Brooklyn Historical Society’s award-winning monthly podcast, which explored Brooklyn’s past and present through scholarly discussions, historical archives, and oral histories.
Formerly, he served as Project Manager of Columbia University’s Malcolm X Project under the direction of the late Manning Marable, and was a lead researcher for Marable’s Pulitzer Prize winning biography, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention (2011). As a scholar of Malcolm X, he has written for both scholarly and general publics, and has been a featured narrator in two documentaries--CNN’s Witnessed: The Assassination of Malcolm X (2015) and Netflix’s Who Killed Malcolm X? (2020).
A committed educator, he has taught for over a decade as an adjunct lecturer at New York University, including courses on United States history, Malcolm X, and Prince Rogers Nelson. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree with a concentration in Afro-American Studies from Harvard University, and Master of Arts and Master of Philosophy degrees in History from Columbia University.