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 4, Episode 10
Headshot of Jenn Hoos Rothberg, against a grey background Jenn Hoos Rothberg, Executive Director, Einhorn Collaborative
Facing America‘s crisis of connection with Jenn Hoos Rothberg, Einhorn Collaborative Executive Director

“The circle of concern has to be wide enough for all of us to fit inside,” Jenn Hoos Rothberg tells host Grant Oliphant on this episode of “We Can Be.”

Jenn is executive director of the Einhorn Collaborative, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to addressing America’s crisis of connection by increasing opportunities for empathy and civility. 

Her work is especially needed in these times. This past summer, a U.S. News and World Report piece reported that out of 17 countries surveyed, the U.S. had the highest percentage – 88 percent – of respondents say that they felt our society was more divided now that it was prior to the start of the pandemic. 

Jenn is clear that such findings are not the whole story, however, and is doing her part to elevate examples of everyday humans building bridges and fostering deep, meaningful relationships with those different from themselves. 

She’s doing just that as a co-producer of the documentary feature film “The Antidote,” which centers on the moving stories of real-life people who are making the intentional choice to lift others up, and is now available on Amazon Prime. 

She breaks the “kindness equals weakness” myth, and shares the “three B’s” – bonding, bridging and building - that may be the key to keeping both our society and democracy functionable.

“What we do is just as important as how we do it,” Jenn says. “What we’re in need of is not simply the ritual of acting kind. We can dig deeper and be kind.”

Be kind and listen – and share – this episode of “We Can Be.”

Season 4, Episode 9
Michael Mann, wearing a black suit with arms crossed and resting his chin on his hand against a grey background Michael Mann, Author and Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science, Penn State University
The New Climate War author Michael Mann & the fight to take back our planet

“Hurricane Ida was a shot across the Earth’s bow,” said Michael Mann, one of the world’s most preeminent experts on climate change, in a Boston Globe editorial published shortly after the devastating storm made landfall in September 2021.  

Michael is distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University, with joint appointments in the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute and the Department of Geosciences and the Earth. 

He is the author of five best-selling books, including the recently published “The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet” as well as “The Tantrum that Saved the World: A Carbon Neutral Kids’ Book” and “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars.”

In 2019, Michael received the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, often called the “Nobel Prize for the Environment,” and in 2020, he was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. 

He has written or co-written more than 230 climate-focused academic papers, and is a widely sought-after commentator on the science, societal and political aspects of climate change. 

Michael tells podcast host Grant Oliphant that it is indeed still possible to avert the most devastating impacts of climate change, and believes indisputable science and a burgeoning youth environmental movement are key to our future. 

“The forces for action have now aligned,” he said. 

Learn what we need to do next on this episode of “We Can Be.”

Season 4, Episode 8
Sean O'Leary headshot against a grey background Sean O'Leary, Author, "State of My State"
Appalachia’s battle between wish & hope w/ “State of My State” author & energy industry researcher Sean O’Leary

Energy industry researcher and “The State of My State” author Sean O’Leary zeroes in on the role of  coal, natural gas and petrochemicals in the economies of Appalachia. 

He does it with with a deep respect for the region where he grew up, and an understanding that with the beauty and grandeur of that region also comes unfulfilled promises of hydraulic fracturing-related prosperity. 

Sean was born and raised in West Virginia, and is a senior researcher and writer with the Ohio River Valley Institute. The institute was founded in 2020 with an aim of providing sound research that will help promote a more sustainable, equitable, democratic and prosperous Appalachia.

His book, newspaper column and blog—all titled “The State of My State”—have been widely shared and cited, and have captured the attention of the U.S. Department of Energy, where Sean was asked to present earlier this year. 

Sean shares with host Grant Oliphant the painful battle regarding “wish and hope” that he has heard families in Appalachia express.  He says that while they often “wish their kids and grandchildren would stay when they are grown and have families of their own, the lack of opportunity makes them also hope they don’t.”

Hear about eye-opening data and the post-fossil fuel economic plan playing out now in a community in Washington state that is giving hope that a similar blueprint for Appalachia is possible—all on this new episode of “We Can Be.”

Season 4, Episode 7
headshot of Kristina Marusic in front of a grey background Kristina Marusic, Investigative Reporter, Environmental Health News
Environmental Health News investigative reporter Kristina Marusic uncovers hard truths and arms public with facts

Kristina Marusic is an investigative reporter covering environmental health and justice issues for Environmental Health News, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization dedicated to driving science into public discussion and policy.

In early 2021, Environmental Health News published Kristina’s “Fractured: The body burden of living near fracking,” a four-part series that revealed the health impacts of shale hydraulic fracturing—or fracking—on families living near fracking sites. attention, and has become a key piece of evidence for lawmakers urging action on environmental health issues. 

Prior to joining the Environmental Health News team in 2018, Kristina gained national acclaim for her work as a staff writer for MTV news, and has had bylines on stories in The Washington Post, CNN, Slate, Vice, Women's Health, and The Advocate.

Kristina’s journalism is, as she tells host Grant Oliphant, “a way of reporting that helps society learn how to fix itself. It's not advocacy or fluff or good news, it's forward-looking, serious and critical.” 

Of her reporting on environmental topics, including climate change, the health risks of fracking, and “super pollution” air events, Kristina says: “I believe that true, well-told stories have the power to change the world for good.” 

Listen to how she is doing just that on this episode of “We Can Be.”

Season 4, Episode 6
headshot of Thomas Brennan against a grey background Thomas Brennan, Founder and Journalist, War Horse
The true cost of military service with War Horse founder/journalist Thomas Brennan

Thomas Brennan is founder and executive director of The War Horse, a nonprofit newsroom that has gained international respect for reporting on the often-unspoken human impacts of military service.

A former Marine Corps sergeant who served as an infantryman in Iraq and Afghanistan, Thomas joins host Grant Oliphant for a timely conversation about his journey from active duty service in Afghanistan to being honored with a Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award for his resolute reporting on sexual assault in the military.

Thomas first gained widespread journalistic acclaim for a series of self-penned pieces in The New York Times that chronicled what he has called the “mental health and moral injury”—including what was eventually diagnosed as a traumatic brain injury—caused by an attack in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province when he was 24.

Thomas went on to found The War Horse in 2016, and the following year co-authored the well-received book “Shooting Ghosts—A U.S. Marine, a Combat Photographer, and Their Journey Back from War” with combat photographer Finbarr O'Reilly. 

“When reading my reporting, I don’t want people to think that it’s ‘poor me,’ or ‘woe is me,’ because veterans don’t want pity,” Thomas says. “We want to have a conversation.”

Aiming to bridge the military–civilian divide through well-researched stories that declare truth to power, Thomas and The War Horse team have done just that, publishing investigative pieces that have served as catalysts for significant national policy change.

Thomas says: “We aim to strengthen our democracy by improving our country’s understanding of the true cost of military service.”

Season 4, Episode 5
headsont of Nell Edgington against a grey background Nell Edgington, Author, Reinventing Social Change
Reinventing Social Change author Nell Edgington on embracing abundance, joy & power of “yet”

Nell Edgington, author of “Reinventing Social Change: Embrace Abundance to Create a Healthier and More Equitable World,” has traveled coast to coast in her quest to guide social-change warriors in realizing their full power and capability. 

Social change movements have been part of our country’s DNA for hundreds of years, encompassing the abolitionist movement of the 1800s, the suffragist movement that culminated in women gaining the right to vote in 1920, and the civil rights movement that gained widespread support in the 1960s and whose work continues to this day. 

Whether you are a social change activist, involved in the nonprofit or philanthropic world, or just have an interest in what it takes for the arc of justice to bend, Nell’s conversation with host Grant Oliphant will inspire and re-energize. 

Born and raised in Minnesota, with a professional background that includes time at PBS national headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, and at the Central Texas Food Bank in Austin, Nell has been president of the Austin-based management consultant group Social Velocity since its founding in 2008. “Reinventing Social Change” was published in 2021. 

A fan of Janelle Monáe and Robert Frost, Nell brings a sense of joy and optimism to her work, which she encourages in others: 

“We are infinitely more powerful – in creating social change, or really in doing anything – when we approach it from a place of joy.” 

Season 4, Episode 4
Headshot of Dr. Barry Kerzin Dr. Barry Kerzin, Founder, Human Values Institute & Altruism in Medicine Institute
Dr. Barry Kerzin, personal physician to the Dalai Lama & founder of Human Values Institute & Altruism in Medicine Institute

Dr. Barry Kerzin is foremost a kind, giving, smart and and inspirational beautiful human being. 

And if that were all he was, it would be more than enough. 

But Barry is also a Buddhist monk, a personal physician to the Dalai Lama, and the founder of both the Human Values Institute in Japan and the United States-based Altruism in Medicine Institute, which teaches resilience to health care workers through training in compassion and mindfulness.

He shares his fascinating and moving journey with “We Can Be” host Grant Oliphant, including how the Dalai Lama told him that his path would be “50-50—one half medicine and the other half spreading love and compassion.” Barry listened and has followed that auspicious path for more than three decades. 

“If we can learn to focus our mind even a little bit, we will be more successful in training our minds to be more compassionate—and therefore happier,” Barry says of his work teaching mindfulness to nurses, doctors and police forces in an effort to help them cope with the stress and trauma of their professions.  

He has been profiled in media outlets around the world, including PBS and CNN, and shared his wisdom with audiences throughout Europe and North America, as well as in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Russia, and Mongolia, to name but a few.

Barry, whose brain has been studied by both Princeton University and the University of Wisconsin as part of their quests to understand the effects of long-term meditation, believes that “socially engaged Buddhism” has enormous potential for all of us.

“When you’re being compassionate, “he says, “you feel good.

Season 4, Episode 3
headshot of Brandon Dennison on a grey background Brandon Dennison, CEO, Coalfield Development
Rebuilding Appalachia for a new energy economy w/ Coalfield Development CEO Brandon Dennison

Coalfield Development CEO Brandon Dennison and his team are rebuilding the Appalachian economy one job at a time, with gumption, grit and grace as their guide. 

The wide valleys, imposing mountains and steep ridges that make up the topography of Appalachia wind across all or parts of 12 states, stretching from New York to portions of Mississippi and Alabama. 

In the middle this impressive terrain is Huntington, West Virginia, the home of both Brandon and Coalfield Development, which he co-founded in 2010 with his high school best friend. 

Brandon and his team bridge the divide between those dedicated to a declining fossil fuel economy and those who believe in the family-sustaining jobs that a renewable energy economy provides.  

That’s just one of the reasons he was honored with a 2019 Heinz Award and has been interviewed by the BBC, CNBC and The New York Times.

He has led Coalfield Development in the revitalization of 200,000 square feet of formerly dilapidated property, helped create 300 new jobs, and brought $20 million in new regional investment to Appalachian communities. 

As Brandon tells host Grant Oliphant: “Change is hard,” and the coal industry “uses fear with incredible precision.”

He and the Coalfield Development family counter that fear with fact-based data, comprehensive job and life-skills programs, and—most of all—heartfelt dedication to the long-term health and economic well-being of the Appalachian communities they call home.

“Bridging divides is about human interaction,” Brandon says, “and when that happens, barriers go down.”

Season 4, Episode 2
Headshot of Asha Curran, who is smiling,  has blonde hair and is wearing a black shirt. Asha Curran, Co-founder, GivingTuesday
How & why radical generosity works w/ GivingTuesday co-founder Asha Curran

GivingTuesday co-founder Asha Curran is one of the few humans in the world today who can rightfully say that they have been instrumental in producing 20 billion social media impressions and raising nearly $2.5 billion dollars to help others in a single year.

But that is exactly what she and her team did this past year with GivingTuesday, the global online giving program that was created in 2012 to be, in her words, “an antidote to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the two days right after Thanksgiving that shamelessly celebrate mass consumption.”

Instead, Asha and co-founder Henry Timms envisioned a simple, open-source, customizable digital giving campaign that could help thousands of nonprofits raise funds in a unified day of giving. 

Now, nearly a decade on, GivingTuesday (originally launched as part of New York City’s 92nd Street Y cultural center) has become a worldwide success, proving that Asha’s concept of what she calls “radical generosity” is more than simply a possibility—it is reality. 

Born in India and raised on the Lower East Side of New York City with a uniquely non-linear life path, Asha brings a world of experience to her role as the CEO of GivingTuesday. 

As Asha tells host Grant Oliphant: “I focus on things that I find interesting and meaningful, and I immerse myself deeply in them.”

Hear about her meaningful, ground-breaking work in digital generosity on this episode of “We Can Be.”

Season 4, Episode 1
Headshot of William Frey William Frey, Demographer and Senior Fellow of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institute
“Diversity Explosion” author/demographer William Frey on where America is headed

On this new season of The Heinz Endowments’ “We Can Be” podcast, host Grant Oliphant welcomes guests who are bridging divides and finding the common ground necessary to allow for the creation of a more just world for all. 

A key element in creating a more just world is having well-researched and easy to communicate data about who we truly are as a nation.  The season’s first guest has been at the forefront of just that for nearly four decades. 

William H. Frey is the author of “Diversity Explosion: How New Racial Demographics are Remaking America,” and an internationally renowned demographer and senior fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institute

He also is a research professor with the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research and Population Studies Center, has authored more than 200 publications, and has been a consultant to the U.S. Census Bureau.

William is acutely skilled at taking complicated data and helping us understand what it says about who we are and where we are going as a country. His work has been covered in dozens of media outlets, including The Economist, Forbes, The New Yorker, NPR’s “All Things Considered,” NBC, CBS, ABC, and The Washington Post. 

His current research agenda involves examining 2020 U.S. census practices and results, tracking voting trends associated with the 2020 presidential primary and general election, and monitoring demographic aspects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Black and brown citizens, and an increasingly progressive young population will dominate spending power, population increases, and, eventually, the care of our older citizens,” William says of the latest census data. 

Having this data is just the first step, however. “It will take political leadership—on both national and regional levels—to help educate us as to why this is so important, and why this is good for us.”

Special Episode
Special Episode Illah Nourbakhsh, Director of CMU's CREATE Lab, and Raqueeb Bey, Exec. Director of Black Urban Gardeners and Farmers of Pittsburgh
Bridging gap between university & community: The Center for Shared Prosperity

One of the great anomalies of modern American society is the disconnect between the intellectual capital, innovation, and wealth creation associated with its leading research universities and the persistent challenges and inequality confronting the communities in which those centers of innovation reside. 

There is a better way – one in which universities focus their research and problem-solving expertise on those challenges that surrounding communities identify as most urgent. It’s a way that includes deep and long-term partnerships between community representatives, unversities and philanthropy.

Funded by The Heinz Endowments with its largest-ever single grant and guided by a committee of trusted community leaders, the newly launched Center for Shared Prosperity at Carnegie Mellon University is creating a template for that better way.

In this episode of “We Can Be,” host Grant Oliphant welcomes Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab leader Illah Nourbakhsh, and Raqueeb Bey, executive director of Black Urban Gardeners and Farmers of Pittsburgh and one of the trusted regional leaders helping guide the focus of the center.

Illah is the K&L Gates Professor of Ethics and Computational Technologies at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute, the author of “Robot Futures,” and co-author of “AI and Humanity,” both from MIT Press.

In addition to heading Black Urban Gardeners and Farmers of Pittsburgh, Raqueeb also leads Mama Africa’s Green Scouts, a grassroots organization that works with black youth in underserved communities to encourage awareness of green education, environmental sustainability and social justice. 

Illah and Raqueeb share what they believe the Center for Shared Prosperity could mean for both the university and surrounding communities, and how other cities across the nation with major research institutions may use the initiative as a guide for systemic change. 

“I see this as the opportunity for all of us to come together in a genuine, long-term way to make  permanent change in the structure of the system,” says Raqueeb. 

Illah agrees: “I believe that we can be pioneers for justice together.”

Read the press release by Carnegie Mellon University about the Center for Shared Prosperity.

Incidental music by Giuseppe Capolupa.

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.