Grant Oliphant smiling in conversation, seated behind a microphone. Grant Oliphant, president of The Heinz Endowments and host of We Can Be,. Photo by Joshua Franzos

Give your life a healthy dose of inspiration by listening or subscribing to The Heinz Endowments’ new weekly podcast “We Can Be.” Hosted by Endowments’ President Grant Oliphant, the podcast brings listeners thoughtful and informed discussions on local, national and global challenges, and showcases the work of nonprofits and regional institutions. The 20-episode season features leaders as they share the often moving, sometimes funny and always inspiring accounts of how they came to believe that together we can be a healthier, smarter, and more creative and just community.

"We Can Be" is produced by the Endowments and Treehouse Media. Theme music is composed by John Dziuban, with incidental music by Josh Slifkin. 

How to listen:
Visit this webpage each Wednesday for a new episode.

Visit iTunes, Podbean, Google Play, Stitcher or other major podcast sites to download an episode, or subscribe so new episodes are automatically in your feed each week. Use search term: heinz we can be.

Season 1, Episode 12
Season 1, Episode 12 Henry Timms, Executive Director, 92nd Street Y and Co-author, "New Power"
New Power: Author Henry Timms explains what it is, how to get it and why it’s changing our hyper-connected world.

For most of recorded history, the rules of power were clear: Power was something to be seized and then guarded at any cost. This "old power" was owned by a tiny fraction of humankind, and beyond reach for the vast majority of people. 

But the ubiquitous connectivity of our world today is allowing something altogether new to occur, and makes possible an extraordinarily different kind of power: people-centric, participatory-focused and spreading with lightning-fast speed. 

“If you are able to harness this new power, you are likely to come out on top,” says Henry Timms, co-author of “New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World — and How to Make It Work for You.” 

As executive director of the historic 92nd Street Y cultural and community center in New York City, Henry is a passionate believer in the new power distribution that technology allows. The 92nd Street Y serves 300,000 visitors each year, and garners millions of online interactions. Partnering with the United Nations Foundation in 2012, Henry founded #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving fueled by social media and collaboration. To date, it has raised more than $300 million for organizations, charities and events, and made nearly 22 billion online impressions.

“We Can Be” host Grant Oliphant, president of The Heinz Endowments, asks in this episode what old power — large institutions, bureaucracies and top-down structures — gets wrong, and if it can peacefully co-exist with the new power paradigm that Henry espouses. 

Henry’s answers may surprise you, and he is crystal-clear on what’s really at stake: “New power is becoming the essential skill of the 21st century,” he says. “Those that can harness the energy of the connected crowd and create opportunities for people to engage on their own terms will win.”

Henry dives into how the Parkland survivors, the Me Too movement, Local Motors and Black Lives Matter have gotten it right, and why our most challenging task may be figuring out how — or if — we can ensure this new power is used for good. “Those on the side of the angels need to get mobilized,” Henry says. “And I mean quickly.” 

On this episode of “We Can Be,” learn about this new power: how to get it, why it’s changing our hyper-connected world and why we should be hopeful about what it can do.

Season 1, Episode 11
Season 1, Episode 11 Steve Shelton, Founder & Executive Director, Trade Institute of Pittsburgh (Photo by Joshua Franzos)
Brick by Brick: Steve Shelton got his second chance and now he makes certain others have a shot at their own redemption - and a living wage.

In the summer of 1972, The Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There” was a No. 1 hit, the Watergate scandal was in the news, and “The Godfather” was the top movie. Steve Shelton has his own vivid memory of that time: He was 12 years old, riding in the back of a pickup truck with a cast of characters from around his neighborhood on the way to bricklaying jobs. 

And he loved it. 

That camaraderie etched into his mind, and it is part of what guided him to found a building trades program that trains men and women — many of whom have been incarcerated — in fields that enable them to make a living wage while resetting their lives. His own journey to leadership included some bricks in the road — some boulders, really — and he repays the second chance that he got by making sure others can start again, too.

Steve founded the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh in 2009, and in this episode of “We Can Be,” he shares his story of what came before, and what ingrained the deep sense of empathy and toughness within him that infuses all he does as TIP’s executive director. While there is an emotional and very human side to his work, there are also impressive cut-and-dry numbers: TIP has saved taxpayers an estimated $10 million dollars by reducing recidivism, has a 94 percent program graduation rate, and has placed more than 300 individuals in jobs at or above a living wage. 

Steve also draws on memories of his own personal battles in the mid-1990s that changed him forever. “Those times imprinted on my mind the importance of second chances,” he says. 

Because he prevailed and launched TIP, a few years ago he found himself leading a crew working on the restoration of August Wilson’s childhood home. That he and his team were playing a role in preserving the history of the man who so eloquently wrote about the lives, challenges and triumphs of working people was not lost on them. “Have a belief in yourself that is bigger than anyone's disbelief,” the Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright once said. 

Steve found that earth-shifting belief in himself, and has dedicated his life to making certain others can, too. 

Season 1, Episode 10
Season 1, Episode 10 Rabbi Ron Symons, Senior Director of Jewish Life, Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh
Spinning our moral compass: Rabbi Ron Symons on why centuries-old traditions may be the secret to navigating race, wage & immigrant issues.

Rabbi Ron Symons grew up a few train stops away from vibrant, multi-cultural Manhattan in New York City. He now shares his world view of accepting everyone as part of his leadership role at the Center for Loving Kindness and Civic Engagement, an initiative of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.

His journey has taken some eye-opening turns — including a 2014 arrest for standing up for living wages — as he has become an outspoken voice on social justice issues, including race relations, gun violence, and immigrant and refugee causes. 

Rabbi Symons believes we imperil our future if we igore our past, and points to a 225-year-old speech by a U.S. Founding Father that he feels speaks to today’s “two Americas.” “We have a responsibility to listen to each other,” he says. “Just because we differ, it doesn’t mean we have to demonize the opposition.”

He also describes to “We Can Be” host and Endowments President Grant Oliphant why it’s critical that we keep learning at all ages, how a childhood event sparked empathy in him, and why in today’s political atmosphere we must be consciously vigilant in ensuring that our moral compasses are not spinning out of control. 

Rabbi Symons is clear in his belief that we have more similarities than we have differences, and therein may lie the secret to advancing a more equitable society. Life “is a people-to-people experiment,” he says. “We share the same stories, but with different scripts.” 

Hear Rabbi Ron Symon’s story of hope and the world-altering power of community — plus a “Game of Thrones” tale that brings a new perspective to our fascination with walls — on this episode of “We Can Be.”

Season 1, Episode 9
Season 1, Episode 9 Illah Nourbakhsh, Professor of Robotics and Director of the CREATE Lab, Carnegie Mellon University
R2-D2, Illah & Ethics: How robotics and AI genius Illah Nourbakhsh was inspired to use his superpowers for good

Illah Nourbakhsh’s journey began with his birth in Iran, and has since taken him around the world as a leader in the field of robotics and artificial intelligence. The Carnegie Mellon University robotics professor and director of the Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment (CREATE) Lab stands out among roboticists for the projects he works on — most notably not Department of Defense programs — and for his commitment to never losing sight of the humans who interact with his creations. 

“What I do is fundamentally about empowerment,” says Illah, “and I believe technology should always be used for good.” 

Robotics and artificial intelligence have enormous capacity for adversely affecting our humanity — the “echo chamber” of internet searches and robotic weapons come to mind — but Illah is an unwavering force in advancing technology that makes our world healthier, safer and more equitable.  

A celebrated author — “Robot Futures” and “Parenting for Technology Futures” are his most recent books — and captivating speaker, Illah is candid about the role international politics has played in his life, most notably the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, and how it formed his deep sense of empathy. He also describes the moving way a family in Uganda tried to repay him and the CREATE Lab team for improving their home’s air quality. 

Along the way, Illah shares why a simple question about a Frisbee can reveal the limitations of Siri, what he believes is the most important thing humans should strive to preserve, and how a childhood decision between “Herbie the Love Bug” and “Star Wars” triggered his galactically cool career path.

Illah is brilliant, funny and kind – and he is using his superpowers for the betterment of humanity.

Season 1, Episode 8
Season 1, Episode 8 Tammy Thompson, Executive Director, Greater Pittsburgh Circles
Circles of love: Tammy Thompson draws on her own remarkable journey in her work to break poverty trauma cycles

Tammy Thompson was nine when she and her family left a West Virginia coal mining town for the promise of a good-paying job and a new life in Pittsburgh. They shot through the Fort Pitt tunnels, where on the other end the golden bridges and sparkling lights of the city and its rivers burst into dazzling view. Then it all went wrong.

As a third-grader, Tammy saw her family’s high hopes and financial stability crumble in ways that still affect them today. But she now heads an arm of the national anti-poverty group Circles and is the producer of the documentary film We Wear the Mask: the Hidden Faces of Women in Poverty. She is an undeniable success story, and she spreads hope and love to everyone with whom she comes in contact.

The trauma of poverty — and the strength from rising out of it — informs all that Tammy does. Her story is very much an American story. It’s a story of loading into the family car and chasing after the promise of a better life only to find it is just the beginning of an even rougher road. And then, against unfathomable odds, overcoming the difficult circumstances.

Tammy is upbeat, smart and brings energy and empathy to all who come into her own circle. Don’t miss the story of her journey, her perhaps surprising thoughts on gentrification, and her belief that going “beyond survival into ‘thrival’ ” should — and must — be our goal.

Season 1, Episode 7
Season 1, Episode 7 Hamza Perez, Founder of YA-NE at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh and Co-founder of the Light of the Age Mosque
Humor, Rap, Poetry and the New Muslim Cool of Hamza Perez

“God writes straight with crooked lines” is a popular adage that has been used to describe the journey of Hamza Perez, and he good-naturedly agrees. With a life story that is movie script-worthy, Hamza has walked his path with humor, humility, music and openness. He is founder of the YA-NE (Youth Alliance of Networking and Empowerment) at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, co-founder of the Light of the Age Mosque, and a spiritual advisor for communities in Hartford, Conn., and Springfield, Mass. He is smart, funny and hopeful — and he’s making a difference in how many perceive Muslims in the world today.

From his Catholic upbringing in Brooklyn to his present-day youth leadership in Pittsburgh’s Muslim community — with stops along the way as a drug dealer with his own apartment by age 18 and a member of the rap duo M-Team with brother Suliman — Hamza has made defying perceptions his life’s work. His route from a Puerto Rican Catholic to a Muslim leader in the Mid-Atlantic has been one with many turns, and that is just what makes him and his work so engaging. His life thus far has been about overcoming perceptions — regarding what he could become, where he could go, what he should believe — of family, friends and in some instances a suspicious and hostile world. The subject of a PBS film “New Muslim Cool,” Hamza strives to be a positive and hopeful force in our world.

Season 1, Episode 6
Season 1, Episode 6 Janis Burley Wilson, President and CEO, The August Wilson Center for African American Culture
A Story of Two Wilsons: As a child, Janis Burley Wilson loved reading August Wilson’s plays; now she leads his namesake center for African American culture.

Two Wilsons – August Wilson and Janis Burley Wilson – have intersected in ways both meaningful and magical. The first Wilson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, and the second now leads the August Wilson Center for African American Culture in Pittsburgh. Growing up in August Wilson’s hometown, Janis loved reading his plays, and recognized the locales he wrote about as places where her extended family lived and thrived. That she grew up in Pittsburgh and now leads his namesake center here is “fascinating and amazing,” she says.

The building itself – a soaring, modern-yet-accessible structure resembling a ship with its sail rising skyward from the street – has a history with as many twists, turns, and emotional peaks and valleys as one of August Wilson’s plays. After opening to grand acclaim in 2009, it was nearly lost to developers five years later due to severe financial difficulties. Now on steady ground, the center is poised to fulfill its promise as an internationally prominent venue for African American arts.

This episode of “We Can Be” blends Janis’ words, August Wilson’s lyrical text, and the sentiments of those experiencing the spectacular architecture of the August Wilson Center. Included is Janis’ recollection of a childhood memory that nearly all of us share: hearing music through the walls and down the hall after we’ve gone to bed at night. For Janis, though, that music helped set her inner compass on a path that led her to a life’s work dedicated to ensuring that future generations know the depth and richness of African American culture. 

Season 1, Episode 5
Betty Cruz, with long brown hair, leaning against a white concrete block wall. Betty Cruz, Founder and Director, Change Agency
From Miami to the Midwest: Change Agency’s Betty Cruz describes her life’s work as making her city a welcoming place for immigrants.

Like most Midwestern cities that grew out of the industrial age, Pittsburgh was founded on the strength of immigrants who provided power to steel mills, erected majestic buildings, and infused life into its streets and neighborhoods.

While today’s immigrants encounter many of the same biases and obstacles that their predecessors faced, they have a champion in Change Agency Director Betty Cruz. Betty joins The Heinz Endowments’ Grant Oliphant on “We Can Be” for a conversation about what it means to truly be a nation — and a community — of “we.”

Our country, our cities, our neighborhoods were founded and fueled by the minds, dreams, art and hard work of immigrants. Yet, the climate for immigrants today is perhaps the most challenging it has been for decades. 

It was because of this atmosphere — and a belief in the value and agency of every human being — that Change Agency was born. Betty shares why she finds hope in challenging times, how she’s been touched by the stories of Pittsburgh’s modern day immigrants, and what she’s learned about herself through her own journey from Miami to the Midwest.

“We Can Be” is hosted by The Heinz Endowments’ Grant Oliphant and produced by the Endowments and Treehouse Media. Theme music is composed by John Dziuban, with incidental music by Josh Slifkin.

Season 1, Episode 4
Smiling profile image of Veronica Coptis Veronica Coptis, Executive Director, Center for Coalfield Justice
Center for Coalfield Justice’s Veronica Coptis fights for environmental justice in one rural American county.

Those living in rural towns where coal has long been the backbone of their economy and culture are often doubly hit with the realities of the shrinking industry: Jobs are disappearing while the environmental and health aftereffects adversely affect their mortality. 

In this episode of "We Can Be," Veronica Coptis tells her story of being born in Pittsburgh, moving to rural Greene County in the southwestern-most corner of Pennsylvania when she was in third grade, and finding a love of the outdoors that to this day fuels her passion for her work as executive director of the Center for Coalfield Justice. 

As a regional environmental leader, Veronica has gained national attention, including a profile in The New Yorker magazine, "The Future of Coal Country," and speaking engagements at major events such as the Pittsburgh-based p4 2018  sustainability conference. Still, she is dedicated first and foremost to her beloved Greene County.

Veronica knows environmental protection and conservation can be a tough sell. But her family raised her to be strong and thoughtful, and with a deep respect for her community, she makes a compelling case for holding coal companies accountable.  

Season 1, Episode 3
Smiling profile photo of David Conrad David Conrad, Actor and writer
Actor/writer David Conrad's long journey home, identity of place, and the key role artists play in shaping our future

Actor/writer David Conrad discusses why the most striking sound in an industrial town is silence, where his own creative plans will take him next and the integral role the arts play in the future of our communities and nation.

Actor (Wedding Crashers, Ghost Whisperer, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and writer (Pittsburgh Magazine columnist) David Conrad splits his time among a diverse slate of places - Los Angeles, New York City, London and Braddock, Pa., and talks about what made him realize his place, how the identity of a place can change and why knowing a place’s history is the key to its future.

Through his travels David has seen firsthand how the identity of a place – a town, city, state or country – is affected by the culture and history of its people. He shares how that identity can affect how we see ourselves, each other and the world, and its role in forming our politics.

Season 1, Episode 2
Season 1, Episode 2 Mila Sanina, Executive Director of PublicSource. Photo by Joshua Franzos
Kazakhstan candy, a Wisconsin dairy farm, PBS and innovative investigative news: the fantastic journey of PublicSource Exec. Director Mila Sanina

Born in the Soviet Union and raised in Kazakhstan – with a stops at a Wisconsin dairy farm and CNN and PBS News Hour along the way - Mila Sanina’s journey to leadership in the investigative news field is extraordinary.

As Executive Director of PublicSource, Mila believes in the power of ideas, words and stories to change our brain chemistry and the character of our interactions with each other and the world.

Hear her stories of childhood entrepreneurship selling candy on the street in Kazakhstan, the threats against her family during her first reporting job, and how her belief in giving the power of voice to those most affected by a divisive public dialogue keeps her energized.

PublicSource is a non-partisan, nonprofit, digital-first media organization founded in 2011 and dedicated to public service journalism.

Season 1, Episode 1
headshot of Nick Grimes Nick Grimes, Director of Veterans Breakfast Club Post-9/11 Veterans Storytelling Project
Nick Grimes and an America for All Americans

The role post-9/11 vets can play in bridging racial and cultural divides comes to light as Veterans' Breakfast Club's Nick Grimes talks about his journey with The Heinz Endowments' Grant Oliphant in the inaugural episode of We Can Be.

Learn about the misconceptions that post-9/11 veterans face, the culture shock they experience when returning home and why saying "thank you for your service" can be discomforting for them. Grimes details his evolution from being a young evangelical conservative from Mobile, Ala., to the open-minded director of The Veterans Breakfast Club's Post-9/11 Veterans Storytelling Project and an advocate for continuing to strive for a "more perfect union."

The Veterans Breakfast Club has gained national attention for its work in creating communities of listening around veterans and their stories to ensure their living history will never be forgotten.