Grant Oliphant smiling in conversation, seated behind a microphone. 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 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 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.

Season 2, Episode 20
Season 2, Episode 20 DeRay Mckesson, Civil Rights Activist, Author, and Community Organizer
Civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson: “Protest is speaking the truth out loud.”

DeRay Mckesson and his instantly recognizable blue down vest have become synonymous with advocacy for victims of police violence and an end to mass incarceration. With his one million twitter followers, a best-selling book (“On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope”), and his hit podcast “Pod Save the People,” who also is co-founder of the police reform initiative Campaign Zero, is creating space for conversation and action.

Season 2, Episode 19
Season 2, Episode 19 Andre Perry, Fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program, The Brookings Institution
Andre Perry’s genius blend of information & inspiration is helping individuals realize their value & worth.

Dr. Andre Perry of The Brookings Institution has made exploration of race and structural inequality his life’s work. He is a columnist for The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit news organization that specializes in in-depth education reporting, and his writing also regularly appears in The Nation, The New York Times and The Washington Post. His new book is titled “Know Your Price: Valuing Black Lives and Property in America’s Black Cities” (Brookings Institution Press, May 19, 2020).

Season 2, Episode 18
Season 2, Episode 18 Rue Mapp, Founder, Outdoor Afro
Outdoor Afro founder Rue Mapp: “Nature is a refuge from all the ‘-isms’” S02EP18

Rue Mapp founded Outdoor Afro, a “social media community that introduces African Americans to the great outdoors” in 2009, and its success garnered her a role in the organization of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative, a National Wildlife Federation’s Communication Award, and a 2019 Heinz Award in the environment category. “Nature doesn’t judge anyone,” says Rue. “The outdoors is a refuge from all the ‘-isms.’ ” 

Season 2, Episode 17
Phil Buchanan, wearing a blue shirt, plaid blazer and black glasses. Phil Buchanan, Founder/President, Center for Effective Philanthropy and "Giving Done Right" author

Phil Buchanan, founder and president of The Center for Effective Philanthropy and author of “Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count,” is working to make certain people have the best possible information to ensure those hard-earned dollars do the most possible good. 

Season 2, Episode 16
Tim O'Brien, wearing a white shirt and tie and a baseball cap Tim O'Brien, Poet, Soldier and Author

“The Things They Carried” brought National Book Award-winning author Tim O’Brien fame, and the unparalleled poetic beauty and honesty of his novels, short stories and memoirs have cemented his status as one of our most revered contemporary writers.  “We need to be open to the ‘maybe-ness’ of our lives,” Tim says of his latest release, “Dad’s Maybe Book.” “We need to be open to learning, to leaning toward decency, beauty and humility.”

Season 2, Episode 15
Headshot of a smiling Sloane Davidson, wearing a brightly embroidered white shirt. Sloan Davidson, Founder and CEO, Hello Neighbor
Creating an army of support for refugees: Hello Neighbor’s Sloane Davidson

As the national rhetoric about refugees skews toward outright xenophobia, Hello Neighbor Founder and CEO Sloane Davidson is “creating an army of support” that is changing their lives and strengthening the fabric of neighborhoods. “Just like any other family in America, refugees are just trying to get by, do right by their kids, thrive, survive, and find joy,” Sloane says. “One-on-one interaction helps make our similarities crystal-clear.”

Season 2, Episode 14
Season 2, Episode 14 Carmen Gentile, Journalist and Co-founder of Postindustrial
Blindsided by the Taliban: Journalist & Postindustrial magazine co-founder Carmen Gentile

Journalist and “Blindsided by the Taliban: A Journalist’s Story of War, Trauma, Love and Loss” author Carmen Gentile gives his frank, first-hand account of the true cost of our 18-year war in Afghanistan, why it’s considered un-American to question our military, and how he came to turn his efforts to reporting and producing stories that lift up innovators of the Rust Belt and Greater Appalachia through Postindustrial’s print and digital media outlets.

Season 2, Episode 13
Image of Emmai wearing a straw hat, yellow sweater and colorful bowtie. Emmaiis looking at the camera. and pointing. Emmai Alaquiva, CEO, Ya Momz House
Emmai Alaquiva: From homelessness to Emmy winner & mentor

Emmy-winning composer, in-demand director and respected mentor Emmai Alaquiva is candid about what rescued him during his early hard times: “The arts saved my life.” CEO of the media production entity Ya Momz House and a centrifugal force of light and positivity, Emmai shares his story of homelessness; his early ‘90s hip-hop days with Pensoulzinakup; and how he’s built a career that has included working with The Roots, Dr. Maya Angelou, Solange Knowles and Common. 

Season 2, Episode 12
Image of Dr. Cornel West with his arm around the shoulders of Bakari Kitwana Bakari Kitwana and Dr. Cornel West, renowned authors and activists (Photo by Joshua Franzos)
Dr. Cornel West and Bakari Kitwana on the revolution of priorities our society needs (Part 2)

In part two of host Grant Oliphant’s two-episode conversation with Dr. Cornel West and Bakari Kitwana, they examine the revolution in priorities our society needs if we are to thrive, the young activists that are driving their hope, and why empathy – on both sides of the aisle – is key.

Season 2, Episode 11
Image of Dr. Cornel West with his arm around the shoulders of Bakari Kitwana Bakari Kitwana and Dr. Cornel West, renowned authors and activists (Photo by Joshua Franzos)
Dr. Cornel West & Bikari Kitwana on the joy & struggle of today’s freedom fighters (Part 1)

In part one of a two-episode conversation, Dr. Cornel West and Bakari Kitwana examine why joy is important in our lives (especially for those in the social justice realm), what reparations could mean to our nation, and why artists are the indispensable ingredient in society today.

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.” Wasi speaks with refreshing candor about how he’s seen the United States’ “wheel of oppression” roll in his lifetime, 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

Survivors of the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. that left 17 dead know the trauma of gun 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. Parkland students Adam Habona and Alyssa Fletcher share their journey to activism.

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

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. 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. 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.

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

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

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.

“He was my youngest boy,” says Sybrina Fulton 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. 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. 

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 a lauded 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.”

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.  “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. 

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, 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. 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. 

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

In part one of a two-episode series, host Grant Oliphant speaks with Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh CEO Jeff Finkelstein about the morning of Oct. 27, 2018 – and the days that followed – when 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. “We know that, for those closest to the tragedy, the pain will last a lifetime,” Jeff said. “But we can’t turn away.”