Podcast

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

Listen to The Heinz Endowments’ “We Can Be” podcast and experience 30 minutes of intimate, candid conversation about big issues of the day with some of the most accomplished, caring and action-oriented individuals in the social change arena. Hosted by Endowments President Grant Oliphant, “We Can Be” explores the often moving, sometimes funny and always inspiring accounts of how these leaders came to believe that together we can be a more just region, state, country and world.

"We Can Be" is produced by the Endowments and Treehouse Media, with theme music by Josh Slifkin. Guest and host photos by Josh Franzos. 

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 2, Episode 10
Season 2, Episode 10 Wasi Mohamed, Pittsburgh Director of Community Entrepreneurship, Forward Cities
Different but united: the palpable positivity of 24-hours-a-day bridge-builder Wasi Mohamed

When Wasi Mohamed led the Muslim community in an international fundraising effort that raised a quarter of a million dollars for the families of those killed in the attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the world got to know the man many have called “a 24-hours-a-day bridge-builder.” 

Born and raised in an Indian-Muslim family in central Pennsylvania, Wasi recalls his childhood home being pelted with mustard packets and paint bombs, and dynamite exploding their mailbox. 

“It changes who you are at a very young age,” he says. 

But the change it spurred in Wasi was to push forward with palpable positivity when interacting with others and to follow a calling to build bridges between disparate communities, first as executive director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, and currently addressing economic justice as director of community entrepreneurship with Forward Cities.  

Wasi speaks with refreshing candor about how he’s seen the United States’ “wheel of oppression” roll in his lifetime, how we can regain the grace that has been lost by racist narratives that program division into our national character, and why he believes we can, indeed, be “different but united.”

Theme music by Josh Slifkin; incidental music by Giuseppe Capolupo.

Season 2, Episode 9
Season 2, Episode 9 Parkland students Adam Habona and Alyssa Fletcher
From Parkland to Pittsburgh, student activists are forever altering the social change landscape

Over 2,300 lives have been lost, and 8,500 wounded, in over 2,000 mass shootings in the United States in the past seven years. Survivors of the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. that left 17 dead know this trauma of violence all too well. 

But Parkland students are organizing, speaking out, and reaching out to offer support to others who have survived or been affected by gun violence, including members of the Pittsburgh community still reeling from the attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue. 

Recorded in the midst of a visit hosted by Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh's Center for Loving Kindness in conjunction with J-Serve, Parkland students Adam Habona and Alyssa Fletcher share their journey to activism.

Alyssa was organizer of the Parkland “March for Our Lives” rally, which grew to include 800 partner marches around the world and has been described as one of the biggest youth-led protests since the Vietnam War. 

“Your heart beating means you have purpose in this world,” says Adam, who has traveled extensively to spread word about how “that day” rebooted his life forever.

Adam and Alyssa talk about how their faith – Muslim and Jewish, respectively – has fueled their anti-gun-violence activism, the intense bond they feel with students from Pittsburgh and Christchurch, New Zealand, and why, as Alyssa says, “We are not going away.”



 

Season 2, Episode 8
Season 2, Episode 8 Dr. Chris Howard, President, Robert Morris University
From Air Force plane nosedive to university president: Dr. Chris Howard & the power of mentoring

As a United States Air Force pilot, newly engaged to his South African fiancée, Chris Howard ejected from his aircraft as it fell into a nosedive during a solo training mission in January 1995. Twenty years later, he was one of the youngest university presidents in the United States. 

Dr. Chris Howard, president of Robert Morris University since 2015, grew up in Plano, Texas, the great-great-grandson of an enslaved man, and the son of parents who instilled in him the values of humility and service.

As a high school and United States Air Force Academy football star, Dr. Howard guided his teams to championships, and used those leadership skills in active duty tours in Afghanistan and Bosnia. Through it all, he credits a strong cohort of mentors as key to navigating his path. 

“Mentoring is a form of service where you don’t have to be a billionaire to change someone’s life,” he says. “It’s empowering, and it’s an honor.”

In this episode of “We Can Be,” Dr. Howard discusses the “only-ness” of being the singular black student in fourth grade, the Zulu word that is his North Star, and why he is using his capital to speak up for veterans and gender equality. 

Season 2, Episode 7
Season 2, Episode 7 janera solomon, Executive Director, Kelly Strayhorn Theater
janera solomon shines a spotlight on underrepresented voices, ensuring their culture is not erased

“I got into art-making because I want show the different ways that people show up in the world, and to represent voices that are often not heard,” says janera solomon, executive director of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater. That aim has never been needed more than now, as her neighborhood grapples with rapid change and the risk of cultural erasure. 

In the past decade, Pittsburgh’s historic East Liberty community has seen big-name tech companies set up shop in former warehouses, heated controversies ignited about affordable housing, and black-owned businesses priced out of their long-time locations. Steady through it all has been janera and the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, named for native sons/entertainment legends Gene Kelly and Billy Strayhorn. 

In addition to her passion for bringing world-class art to her city and giving agency to often underrepresented voices, janera champions a belief in the power of art to address the big issues of our day.  

“If we’re going to make the case that our art – and our arts organizations - are important, they have to be more important than just for art’s sake,” says janera. “We have a responsibility to show up for all of the issues that are impacting our communities, and to bring all of our creativity, imagination and rigor to the table.”

Hear janera explain the role her immigration story plays in her artistic vision, the three things she believes today’s art world must consider, and how her mom taught her to look fear in the eye – all in this episode of “We Can Be.”



Theme music by Josh Slifkin, with incidental music by Giuseppe Capolupo.

Season 2, Episode 6
Season 2, Episode 6 Emily Collins, Executive Director, Fair Shake
As environmental stakes rise, Emily Collins helps the underserved get a fair shake

Groundwater poisoned from fracking, toxic coal sludge, and industrial pollution can sicken those who live near the source, and ruin land for generations to come. Often those most acutely affected are also those with the least resources to fight for environmental justice. 

So, Emily Collins did something about it, founding Fair Shake, the nation’s first nonprofit law firm devoted to providing environmental legal services regardless of the client’s ability to pay.

Hear about Emily's journey from the woods of her family’s Ohio homestead to the courtroom where she works with individuals, community groups, nonprofit organizations and farmers to give them a fighting chance in their environmental battles. 

And those battles have increasingly higher stakes, too. “I used to work on cases about impacts to one waterway,” Emily says. “Now, I find myself writing sentences like ‘the project will disturb 246 acres, resulting in impacts to 14 wetlands, one pond and 67 streams.’”

Emily shares the very first environmental “citation” she gave – she was in elementary school – and explains why she and her Fair Shake team have run and cycled thousands of miles on the land of those for whom they advocate. 

“The environmental fights many are facing are not just David versus Goliath, but more like David versus two Goliaths,” Emily says. 

Hear how Emily is helping even those astronomical odds in this episode of “We Can Be.”



Theme music by Josh Slifkin, with incidental music by Giuseppe Capolupo. Guest image by Josh Franzos. Audio clips at marks 23:51 and 25:29 feature the voice of environmentalist and “Silent Spring” author Rachel Carson. 

Season 2, Episode 5
Season 2, Episode 5 Sybrina Fulton, mother, author, activist & Jasiri X, activist and CEO, 1Hood Media
The killing of her son Trayvon Martin sparked the Black Lives Matter Movement, and activist Jasiri X is ensuring more hear Sybrina Fulton’s story.

Sybrina Fulton is the mother of slain teen Trayvon Martin, and Jasiri X is the co-founder of the anti-violence artist collective 1Hood Media, but both are so much more than those descriptors suggest. 

“He was my youngest boy,” says Sybrina of her son Trayvon, the unarmed 17-year-old who was followed and shot to death in 2012 by a neighborhood watch coordinator for “looking suspicious” in a Sanford, Fla., gated community. “He loved aviation, Skittles, babies and his family. He was a regular kid.”

Recording artist-activist Jasiri X, who also is a father, remembers the moment he first heard about Trayvon’s death. “I was used to police killing us, but at that moment it felt like anyone could kill us and get away with it,” he says. “It felt like open season on black men and boys.”

In this episode of “We Can Be,” Sybrina shares her moving journey from grieving mother to author (“Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin”) and activist. Her story has helped to inspire millions – including Jasiri X who wrote a song titled “Trayvon” – to speak up against gun violence, “stand your ground” laws and racial profiling.

In the wake of the killing of unarmed Pittsburgh teenager Antwon Rose II, voices like those of Sybrina Fulton and Jasiri X are more vital than ever. “I speak for and from Trayvon Martin,” says Sybrina. “I stand for the other mothers who cannot.”



Season 2, Episode 4
head shot of Damon Young Damon Young, author and co-founder, Very Smart Brothas
Intelligence, humor and heartfelt empathy have made Damon Young one of today’s most read writers on race and culture: “I am just trying to tell the truth.”

With more than 2.5 million weekly “Very Smart Brothas” website readers, a GQ column, and new book “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker,” Damon Young is artfully illuminating life as a black man in 21st century America.

“So many of the narratives about being black in America are ensconced in deep trauma,” says Damon. “And yes, we do deal with racism, oppression and structural inequality, but I hope my writing shares that there is also beauty, love, passion, and humanity in that experience, too.”

Damon shares his take on the role white privilege played in the killing of 17-year-old unarmed black youth Antwon Rose II by a white now-former police officer, the conversation about homophobia he hopes a chapter in his book sparks, and how systemic inequality has led him to experience the “hyper-cognizance” of his blackness.  

His writing is a seamless weaving of intelligence, humor and heartfelt empathy, not unlike the man himself. Experience the full spectrum of writer Damon Young on this episode of “We Can Be.”

This episode contains adult language.

Season 2, Episode 3
Season 2, Episode 3 Alisha Wormsley, Interdisciplinary Artist and Cultural Producer
Archeology, family & fantasy: the fantastic Afrofuturist art of Alisha Wormsley

Cut-out letters on a black steel billboard frame stating “THERE ARE BLACK PEOPLE IN THE FUTURE” stood high above Pittsburgh’s rapidly changing East Liberty neighborhood, bringing national acclaim to interdisciplinary artist and cultural producer Alisha Wormsley

But that science fiction-inspired contribution to The Last Billboard art project - and the controversy its removal sparked - is but one brush stroke in an artistic career that has spanned nearly two decades and numerous continents. 

“I don’t consider myself an activist,” Alisha says, “but my art is active.” It is indeed active, and vibrant, weaving family history, an archeologist’s sensibility, and a love of sci-fi into photographic, film, mural, performance and multi-dimensional works of art. 

Learn how a Zora Neale Hurston book about the religious experience of post-emancipation African-Americans, her brother’s Marvel comic obsession, and “The Walking Dead” have all influenced the smart, moving, beautiful, and absolutely vital art of Alisha Wormsley. 

Season 2, Episode 2
head shot of Brian Schreiber and Rabbi Ron Symons Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh’s executive director, Brian Schreiber, and The Center for Loving Kindness and Civic Engagement’s Rabbi Ron Symons
Leaders honor lives lost at Tree of Life: “We didn’t think about courage. We thought about doing the right thing.”

In this second episode of a two-part series, Jewish community leaders share their distinct and moving perspectives of what happened on Oct. 27, 2018, when a lone gunman opened fire on worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Eleven people were killed in what would become the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in our nation’s history.

Host Grant Oliphant speaks with the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh’s executive director, Brian Schreiber, and The Center for Loving Kindness and Civic Engagement’s Rabbi Ron Symons

With the world’s focus on their community, Brian and Rabbi Ron did all they could to honor traditions and the lives lost in the hours after the tragedy. “We didn’t think about courage,” said Brian. “We just thought about doing the right thing.” 

“A world where we don’t have to deal with this type of hatred is a world that is yet to be,” said Rabbi Ron. “But we have to do our best to try to get to that place, and we will have to be activists to make it happen.”

Season 2, Episode 1
Season 2, Episode 1 Jeff Finkelstein, CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh
In the aftermath of Tree of Life synagogue, random acts of beauty & unity are the new normal

The early morning of Oct. 27, 2018, began with promise, ethereally foggy with sunlight shining through the occasional crack in the haze to highlight the fall foliage. 

Then, at 9:50 a.m., a lone gunman opened fire on worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, killing 11 people in what would become the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in our nation’s history.

In this two-part episode, we will hear three distinct and moving perspectives of what happened that day and in the weeks that followed as the Jewish community, city and country persevered through grief, reckoned with reality, and found that random acts of beauty and unity are the new normal. 

In part one, host Grant Oliphant speaks with Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh CEO Jeff Finkelstein. 

The Jewish Federation has assisted Jewish people affected by traumatic events for more than 100 years, and Jeff shares heart-rending details of what he – and fellow Jewish leaders – did in the hours and days after the massacre at Tree of Life was thrust upon Pittsburgh. 

“We know that, for those closest to the tragedy, the pain will last a lifetime,” Jeff said. “But we can’t turn away.” 



Season 1, Episode 20
Season 1, Episode 20 Rev. Tim Smith, CEO of Center of Life, and Pastor, Keystone Church of Hazelwood
Lifting the arc: Hazelwood’s Tim Smith and the grassroots energy bringing a new future to this riverfront community

“If you want to stir up a community,” says the Rev. Tim Smith, CEO of Center of Life and pastor of Keystone Church of Hazelwood, “you have to be willing to be stirred by that community first.” Prepare to be moved by Rev. Smith’s steady passion, and hear how the residents of his neighborhood are lifting the arc of their American story to new heights.



Season 1, Episode 19
Season 1, Episode 19 Carmen Yulín Cruz, Mayor, San Juan, Puerto Rico
San Juan, Puerto Rico Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz on speaking truth to power, green energy & her grandmother’s enduring impact.

San Juan, Puerto Rico Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz is not afraid to use her voice to call out injustice when she sees it. “That is what power is about,” she says. “It is about ensuring that we all have access to the things that can help us transform our lives.”



Season 1, Episode 18
Season 1, Episode 18 Jasiri X, Hip-Hop Activist and Co-founder, 1Hood Media
Truthful Art: Jasiri X on Trayvon Martin, Antwon Rose Jr. and the cross-section of unity that gives him hope.

As co-founder of 1Hood Media, a collective of socially conscious activists who utilize art to raise awareness about social justice matters, Jasiri X is fostering a new generation of artists and media professionals who use their voices to challenge inequity and unify humanity.



Season 1, Episode 17
Season 1, Episode 17 Lois Gibbs, Love Canal Environmental Activist, Center for Health, Environment & Justice
Love Canal’s accidental environmentalist Lois Gibbs describes the movement she sparked and what today’s activists need to know to save our world

Center for Health, Environment and Justice Founder Lois Gibbs gained international attention and incredible momentum in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s as she led the fight for environmental justice for children and families affected by the environmental disaster identified with the neighborhood where it occurred, Love Canal.  She’s still fighting, stronger than ever.



Season 1, Episode 16
Season 1, Episode 16 Mona Hanna-Attisha, Pediatrician and Flint lead water crisis public health advocate
What the Eyes Don’t See: Mona Hanna-Attisha and Flint’s lead water crisis

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha shares her journey as the child of Iraqi scientists and dissidents who fled Saddam Hussein’s regime, and describes the moment the magnitude of Flint’s water crisis fully hit her. She explains why speaking up was “a choice-less choice.”

Season 1, Episode 15
Season 1, Episode 15 Maxwell King, President & CEO, The Pittsburgh Foundation
The 45 Words that Define Us: Max King on a First Amendment under fire, why we let rights slip away and how we can save them

“To me, freedom of the press, of speech and assembly, and all of the rest of the rights of the First Amendment are the lynchpin for all of our other freedoms,” says Max King, president of The Pittsburgh Foundation. Hear why he believes we must fight with all our might to preserve the “backbone of our democracy.”

Season 1, Episode 14
Season 1, Episode 14 Mustafa Santiago Ali, Senior Vice President, Hip Hop Caucus
Environmental justice superstar: Mustafa Santiago Ali and the Hip Hop Caucus are shifting minds and votes one community at a time.

Mustafa Santiago Ali earned his stripes serving in the Environmental Protection Agency for more than two decades, becoming a founding member of the Office of Environmental Justice. He now serves as a senior vice president of the Hip Hop Caucus – and he’s just getting started.

Season 1, Episode 13
Season 1, Episode 13 Angela Blanchard, President Emerita at BakerRipley and Taubman Fellow and Social Entrepreneur in Residence at Brown University
Born for Storms: Angela Blanchard was a rock during Houston’s Hurricane Harvey, and now she’s out to change the world for good

Angela Blanchard has been a longtime gale of positivity in Houston, spending more than two decades leading BakerRipley, which provides $250 million annually for services that make life better for residents of the Texas Gulf Coast. When Hurricane Harvey hit, she faced the storm with grace and powerful resolve.

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.

A changing power dynamic is allowing something altogether new to occur — an extraordinarily different kind of power that is 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.”

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.

Steve Shelton founded the Trade Institute of Pittsburgh in 2009, training men and women — many of whom have been incarcerated — in fields that enable them to make a living wage while resetting their lives. Hear how he and TIP have saved taxpayers an estimated $10 million dollars by reducing recidivism, fostered a 94 percent program graduation rate, and placed more than 300 individuals in jobs at or above a living wage. 

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.

As head of Center for Loving Kindness and Civic Engagement, an initiative of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, Rabbi Ron 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.

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 amazing journey began with his birth in Iran. Since then, the Carnegie Mellon University robotics professor and director of the Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment (CREATE) Lab has traveled the world as a leader in the field of robotics and artificial intelligence.

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 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.” Hear her moving story, including why 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

As founder of YA-NE (Youth Alliance of Networking and Empowerment) at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh and co-founder of the Light of the Age Mosque, Hamza Perez has made defying perceptions his life’s work. Hear his fascinating, funny and inspiring story.

Season 1, Episode 6
Season 1, Episode 6 Janis Burley Wilson, President and CEO, The August Wilson Cultural Center
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.

Janis Burley Wilson leads the August Wilson Cultural Center, a triumphant chapter in the dramatic story of the entity named for the beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. Hear how this dynamic Wilson is bringing Mr. Wilson to new generations and audiences.

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.

Change Agency Director – and immigration advocate - Betty Cruz 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.”

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.

While Center for Coalfield Justice Executive Director Veronica Coptis’ family raised her to be strong and thoughtful, and have a deep respect for her community, she knows environmental protection and conservation can be a tough sell in rural communities.  Nonetheless, she’s doing it in a big way– and making a difference.

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.

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

As executive director of PublicSource, Mila Sanina 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.

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 Veterans Breakfast Club’s Nick Grimes has guided the organization’s Post-9/11 Storytelling Project to national acclaim for its success in creating listening communities around veterans and their stories. Hear how it’s changing lives, and why post-9/11 veterans may just be the secret to a more perfect union.