Grant Oliphant with the city street in the background - blurred Grant Oliphant with the city street in the background - blurred 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 intimate, candid conversations about the 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 page each week for new episodes.
Visit iTunes, Podbean, Google Play, Stitcher, Spotify, 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.

To listen to “Stronger than This,” the special podcast series of candid conversations about COVID-19 by those on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic as they shared first-hand experiences, challenges, victories, and what they see for the long road ahead, please click HERE.

Season 3, Episode 12
Headshot of Toni Griffin Toni Griffin, Founder, Just City Lab, Harvard Graduate School of Design
Designing cities for justice

Toni Griffin, head of the Harvard Graduate School of Design’s Just City Lab and co-editor of “Patterned Justice,” joins host Grant Oliphant for this episode of “We Can Be.”

Our country has perpetuated structural race and class inequities for more than two centuries. But what if we could design cities – their structures, infrastructures and public spaces – in ways that lessen that inequity and foster a more just community? 

Toni Griffin has been studying, teaching and putting into action this concept of “just cities” for the past decade, most notably with the Just City Lab, a research platform for developing community-informed and values-based planning methodologies and tools.

Toni is the co-editor of the 2020 book “Patterned Justice,” a fascinating look at the process communities can take in identifying the unique values, assets and opportunities that they can enlist in making their neighborhoods more just. Through her New York City-based UrbanAC consulting firm, she has led trans-disciplinary planning and urban design projects for clients in cities with long histories of spatial and social injustice. 

In 2016, President Barack Obama appointed Toni to the United States Commission of Fine Arts, and she is a trusted advisor of mayors and civic leaders in several cities, including Washington, D.C., Memphis, St. Louis and Pittsburgh. 

Toni shares how she came to recognize patterns of injustice common in cities around the United States; what Pittsburgh’s porches, stairs and playgrounds can tell us about inequity; the importance of a common “patterned language”; and why we must consider how spaces affect our mind, body and soul when creating equity-centered city and neighborhood design.  

“Thoughtful, community-informed design,” Toni says, “can have a role in dismantling – and facilitating —  solutions to the physical, social, economic or environmental systems and structures that are at play in making our cities unjust.”

Season 3, Episode 11
headshot of Trabian Shorters Trabian Shorters, BMe co-founder, author
“Reach” author & BMe co-founder Trabian Shorters on the astounding power of asset framing

Trabian Shorters, international expert on the cognitive structure of “asset framing” and co-founder and CEO of the Miami, Florida-based BMe, joins host Grant Oliphant for this episode of “We Can Be.”

Trabian is a former vice president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, retired tech entrepreneur,  New York Times best-selling author of “Reach: 40 Black Men Speak on Living, Leading and Succeeding,” and – in his words – “a doting father of two brilliant, Black twin girls who will live in a better world that we are making together for them.” 

Throughout his impressive career, Trabian has considered how the assessments we make of others are often built on the inherently biased negative attributes that we perceive them to have, missing their positive traits and ignoring their enormous potential. 

Since 2013, he has guided BMe’s network of innovators, leaders and champions who invest in the promise of their communities. The success of BMe’s leadership fellowship program for Black men and women is proving the transformational power of asset framing, and has in the process helped more than 2 million families secure educational, economic, human rights, and health and wellness opportunities. 

Trabian shares with Grant the ways asset framing can inform the national dialogue on police violence against people of color, how John Legend’s contribution to “Reach” inspired him, and why he believes we can truly be a land of liberty and justice for all.

“I sincerely believe that we can embody and exemplify fully realized liberty and justice,” Trabian says. “We have a duty and responsibility to model the type of behavior that we want to see in the world.”

Season 3, Episode 10
Headshot of Rogin DiAngelo Robin DiAngelo, author, educator, facilitator, consultant & anti-racism advocate

Robin DiAngelo’sWhite Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People to Talk About Racism,” began an 85-week run on The New York Times Bestseller List upon its release in 2018.

It has since been published in five languages, and as the Black Lives Matter movement swelled in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police this past spring, “White Fragility” again topped the bestseller lists. 

Robin challenges us to consider the deeply embedded racism that many white people have, and the “white fragility” that they must overcome for substantial progress on personal and societial racism to happen.   

In recent months, she has been a sought-after guest on nearly every major network’s news programs, a culmination of her two decades of work as an educator, facilitator, consultant and anti-racism advocate. 

Robin is much more than one book, though. She earned her doctorate in multicultural education from the University of Washington – where she earned tenure and is now an affiliate associate professor – and has written several other books, including 2012’s “Is Everyone Really Equal?” and 2016’s “What Does it Mean to Be White: Developing White Racial Literacy.”

She joins host Grant Oliphant for this episode of “We Can Be,” and shares the most puzzling reasons she hears from white activists about why they feel they aren’t racist; the ways white progressives unknowingly hinder our nation’s racial progress; and changes that need to happen in our criminal justice institutions. 

“We don’t need to overhaul our criminal justice system,” Robin says. “We need to revolutionize it.

Listen to Robin on "We Can Be"
Season 3, Episode 9
headshot of D.S. Kinsel D.S. Kinsel, Co-founder of BOOM Concepts, multidisciplinary artist and cultural agitator
Artist & cultural agitator D.S. Kinsel protests w/art & leads w/heart

D.S. Kinsel is – in his own words – a “multidisciplinary artist and cultural agitator” who in 2014 co-founded BOOM Concepts, an art collective “dedicated to the advancement of Black and brown artists from marginalized communities across America.” 

D.S.’s art – and his work in mentoring and promoting other artists – is more vital now than ever. It is no secret that COVID-19 has hit the creative community with particular force, causing canceled exhibits and fundraisers, closing venues, and putting many arts education programs in jeopardy. 

This, of course, is happening at the exact time when we need the unflinching honesty and beauty of art more than ever, and as the Black Lives Matter movement gains momentum and makes crystal-clear the inequities faced by Black and brown communities. 

D.S. is the curator of #ACTIVISTprint, a collaborative public art program of The Andy Warhol Museum, and presents an ongoing digital assemblage of his own work through his #KINSELCOLLECTION on Instagram. 

He brings a deep devotion to family and equity to his art, concentrating in the mediums of painting, public installations, and performance. A book about his work, “Totems, Shrines, & Sacraments: Street Sculptures by D.S. Kinsel,” was published earlier this year.

In this podcast episode, D.S. shares with host Grant Oliphant about whether he considers his work to be protest art, his connection to his hometown’s considerable art legacy, and why agitating with art is a vital part of society’s progression. 

“How can people evolve,” D.S. asks, “without a bit of agitation?”

Season 3, Episode 8
Headshot of Angela Glover Blackwell against a grey background. Copy reads:  "The radical imagination & optimism of equity advocate, Angela Glover Blackwell. Angela Glover Blackwell, Founder in Residence at PolicyLink and author
The radical imagination of PolicyLink founder Angela Glover Blackwell is building a more equitable world

The very fact that our country is having a conversation about equity now is due in no small part to the groundbreaking work of Angela Glover Blackwell, who founded PolicyLink 20 years ago with a simple but profound aim: to advance racial and economic equity for all.

Doing just that has been her life’s work, first as a lawyer who founded Oakland, California’s Urban Strategies Council, where she pioneered new approaches to neighborhood revitalization, and later as senior vice president at The Rockefeller Foundation, where she headed its domestic and cultural programs.

She currently serves as Founder in Residence at PolicyLink, which has become one of the nation’s most respected policy and research entities. PolicyLink has been instrumental in building a potent broad-based movement for equity, engaging hundreds of partners in cities, suburbs, rural communities, and tribal lands across America.

Angela is co-author of “Uncommon Common Ground: Race and America’s Future,” and is an in-demand commentator for some of the nation’s top news organizations, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Salon and CNN. She is no stranger to podcasts either, having recently launched her own podcast, “Radical Imagination.”

Angela joins host Grant Oliphant to discuss The New York Times “Banks Should Face History and Pay Reparations” op-ed she co-authored; her upbringing in racially segregated St. Louis, Missouri; the lasting influence of PolicyLink’s Equity Atlas; and what the concept of “radical imagination” means to her. 

“Radical imagination is fueling change,” Angela says. “And when we embrace it, true and transformational solidarity is possible.”

Season 3, Episode 7
Headshot of Jacqueline Patterson, with the quote: "The earth was designed divinely to give us all we need to live in great abundance - if we do it right. Jacqueline Patterson, Senior Director, NAACP's Environmental and Climate Justice Program
The fight against environmental racism w/ NAACP Environmental Justice program dir. Jacqueline Patterson

Communities of color breathe in nearly 40 percent more polluted air than white communities, and African-American children are three times as likely to suffer an asthma attack. And that’s just the tip of the environmental racism iceberg. 

While these are undeniably stark statistics, they are being addressed head on by Jacqueline Patterson, the senior director of the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program., and coordinator & co-founder of Women of Color United. Jacqui joins host Grant Oliphant for this new episode of “We Can Be.”

As a nationally-respected expert in the field of environmental justice for black and brown people who heads the NAACP’s largest program, Jacqui brings attention and a demand for action to the intersection of human rights and the environment. Before joining the national office of the NAACP in 2009, she lent her considerable energy to advocacy work for women’s rights, those affected by HIV & AIDS, and racial and economic justice. 

In this episode, she shares why poor environmental conditions adversely affect the basic civil and human rights of communities of color, including education, health, and housing, and create an endless loop of challenges – and opportunities for what she believes can be “transformational solutions.”

“The earth was designed divinely to give us all we need to live in great abundance,” Jacqui says. “If we do it right.”

Season 3, Episode 6
Headshot of David Hickton against a grey background David Hickton, Cybersecurity Expert and Founding Director, Univ. of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security
Nation’s leading cybersecurity expert David Hickton on election safety & equity in algorithms

From voting and election security to personal data protection, the role of cybersecurity in our society is more critical than ever. The nation’s leading cybersecurity expert, David Hickton, founding director of the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security joins host Grant Oliphant for this episode of “We Can Be.” 

David has been a steady force in some of the most front-and-center issues of our time – including cyber security, child and inmate safety, the battle against opioid abuse, and equity in the algorithms fueling our digital lives. 

Nominated by President Barack Obama to be the U.S. Attorney for the Western Distict of Pennsylvania, he made national headlines in 2014 for indicting members of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army for hacking into and stealing trade secrets from major corporations. Now, as the leader of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, he will help ensure the trillions of dollars the U.S. government has earmarked for COVID-19 relief are spent wisely and effectively. 

The upcoming election has kept David’s cybersecurity work in the forefront of the national conversation. “If we can do our income taxes digitally, put our medical records online, or go to the moon on a cyber platform,” he says, “then surely we can find a way to safely vote on a cyber platform.”

David shares the grown-up book he read at age seven that spurred his lifelong devotion to fighting for the rights of the less-powerful; combatting the often-inherent race bias involved in algorithms; facing being called a traitor by fellow Catholics for speaking up on behalf of children abused by church personnel; and the guiding tenet he has that drives his work: “When I get up in the morning, I still see myself as a civil rights advocate.

Season 3, Episode 5
Dr. Valerie Kinloch wearing a yellow shirt against a gray background Dr. Valerie Kinloch, Author, Scholar, Education Leader
Justice, poetry, race & activism in education with Dr. Valerie Kinloch

Author, scholar, and education leader Dr. Valerie Kinloch joins host Grant Oliphant for this episode of “We Can Be.” 

Valerie has penned “Harlem on Our Minds: Place, Race, and the Literacies of Urban Youth” and “Crossing Boundaries: Teaching and Learning with Urban Youth,” and is the editor of the recently published compilation “Race, Justice, and Activism in Literacy Instruction.” 

She is the Renée and Richard Goldman Dean of the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh, where she is the first female, African American dean in the school’s history. 

Valerie currently serves as vice president of the National Council of Teachers of English, and prior to coming to the University of Pittsburgh, she served as the associate dean of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement at Ohio State University.

In this episode, Valerie shares personal history that has led her to dedicate her life to education, equity, human rights and justice; how the poet June Jordan came to inspire and move her; why abolitionist teaching has the potential to “restore humanity for all of our kids in school”; and the core belief that keeps her fighting for what’s right: “If we’re not innovating and agitating, we can’t possibly disrupt inequitable education systems.”

Season 3, Episode 4
headshot of Jonathan Foley wearing a dark blue shirt against a grey background Jonathan Foley, Executive Director, Project Drawdown
Why tackling climate change is absolutely doable w/ Jonathan Foley, Ex. Dir. Project Drawdown

Dr. Jonathan Foley, world-renowned environmental scientist, sustainability expert, author, and executive director of Project Drawdown, joins host Grant Oliphant to talk about why – despite seemingly insurmountable political and cultural obstacles – he believes tackling climate change is “absolutely doable.” 

Regardless of climate science deniers, Jonathan says there is no contesting the reality of what we are facing. “Climate change is real,” he says. “Mother Nature is slapping us in the face about it.”

Jonathan earned his doctoral degree in atmospheric sciences from the University of Wisconsin, where he launched the Climate, People, and Environment Program and founded the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment

He has served as the founding director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota and as the executive director of the California Academy of Sciences, widely regarded as the greenest and most forward-thinking science museum on the planet. 

Jonathan was honored with a 2014 Heinz Award in the environmental category, and in 2018 took the reigns as the executive director of San Francisco-based Project Drawdown, which bills itself as ““the world’s leading resource for climate solutions.” 

Jonathan shares surprising facts about the history of climate change, why he believes the world-wide education of girls plays a key part in the future of the movement, and the invaluable advice his mother instilled in him about the importance of active listening: “You’re born with two ears and one mouth, and you should use them in that ratio.”


Season 3, Episode 3
Headshot of Edgar Villanueva
“Decolonizing Wealth” author Edgar Villanueva on using Indigenous wisdom to heal inequities

Lumbee Indian tribe member Edgar Villanueva, author of “Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance,” shares with host Grant Oliphant why “listening in color” may be a key in addressing our nation’s systemic racial and ethnic equity disparities. 

“Putting judgments and preconceived conclusions aside, and being open to listening through the space of the other person or group’s lived experience can lead to a better sense of understanding,” Edgar says.  

He is president of the board of directors for Native Americans in Philanthropy, serves as vice president of programs and advocacy at the Schott Foundation for Public Education, and heads the consulting group Leverage Philanthropic Partners

Edgar describes his experience growing up as a member of the Lumbee tribe in North Carolina; the systemic trauma his family and community have faced; the love he has for his mother, who set an indelible example about caring for others and our planet; and the key role the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s stand-off against the Dakota Access Pipeline had on sharpening his dedication to justice.  

He is not afraid to ask difficult questions of business, philanthropy, individuals and communities, and holds great hope for what we can become. “Once we un-learn messages that white is better and white is always right,” Edgar says, “we can begin to see that we are all related.”

Season 3, Episode 2
Headshot of Tony Norman Tony Norman, Columnist, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Photo by Kurt Weber)
Acclaimed Post-Gazette columnist Tony Norman’s writing is trying to help fuel a revolution toward justice

For the past 24 years, renowned Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist and book review editor Tony Norman has written about the most pressing issues of the day, proving to be an important and eloquent voice of truth. 

Tony began his journalism career covering pop culture, eventually serving as the Post-Gazette’s Pop Music and Culture Editor. He is a former editorial board member at the Post-Gazette, and is the current vice president of the board of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. 

He has modestly described himself as “a distracted former political science major,” but he is so much more than that. 

Tony shares stories of his early days as a pop culture writer in the ‘90s, including the David Bowie/Nine Inch Nails show that changed his career; his reception as the Post-Gazette’s first Black columnist; and the column he wrote that most moved him – and cemented his decision to “always be on the side of the underdogs.”

The era we are living in “feels different than any other I’ve lived through, like positive change is possible,” says Tony to host Grant Oliphant. “We are seeing a revolution in attitudes.”

He is writer in a time when there is no shortage of things to write about, and his words are trying to help fuel the revolution toward justice. 


Season 3, Episode 1
Headshot of Mikael Owunna Mikael Owunna, artist and author
Artist Mikael Owunna reveals inherent beauty, power & dignity of Black & LGBTQ+ bodies

Mikael Chukwuma Owunna has described himself as a “queer Nigerian-Swedish American photographer, Fulbright Scholar and engineer” who “imagines new universes and realities for marginalized communities around the globe.” 

Infinite Essence,” Mikael’s exhibition of large-scale photographs presenting glittering Black bodies as gorgeously ethereal universes, has moved audiences at every stop. 

His recent book, “Limitless Africans,” featuring portraits of 50 LGBTQ+ individuals of African descent who are thriving around the world, is a best seller that has garnered rave reviews from NPR, VICE Media, and The New York Times.

Mikael tells “We Can Be” host Grant Oliphant that when taking photographs, he aims to create a “space of freedom” between himself and the models, and hopes those viewing the finished images “both see and feel that freedom.”

As the Black Lives Matter movement turns into a powerful and visible global movement, Mikael’s art has taken on an even more profound significance, challenging old narratives about both Black and LGBTQ+ bodies, and making clear their power, dignity, and inherent beauty.