We Can Be podcast - The Heinz Endowments
Different but united: the palpable positivity of 24-hours-a-day bridge-builder Wasi Mohamed S2EP10

Different but united: the palpable positivity of 24-hours-a-day bridge-builder Wasi Mohamed S2EP10

May 29, 2019

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 Pittsburgh local 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.”

 

 

“We Can Be” is hosted by Heinz Endowments President Grant Oliphant, and produced by the Endowments and Treehouse Media. Theme music by Josh Slifkin; incidental music by Giuseppe Capolupo. Guest image by Josh Franzos. Guest inquiries: Scott Roller at sroller@heinz.org.

From Parkland to Pittsburgh, student activists are forever altering the social change landscape S2E9

From Parkland to Pittsburgh, student activists are forever altering the social change landscape S2E9

May 22, 2019

More than 2,300 lives have been lost and 8,500 people 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, Florida., that left 17 dead know this trauma of violence all too well.

 

But Parkland students are organizing, speaking out, and reaching across boundaries 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 the teen service program J-Serve, Parkland students Adam Habona and Alyssa Fletcher share their journey to activism.

 

Alyssa was an 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.”

 

“We Can Be” is hosted by Heinz Endowments President Grant Oliphant, and produced by the Endowments and Treehouse Media. Theme and incidental music by Josh Slifkin. Guest image by Josh Franzos.  Guest inquiries: Scott Roller sroller@heinz.org 

From Air Force plane nosedive to university president: Dr. Chris Howard & the power of mentoring S2EP8

From Air Force plane nosedive to university president: Dr. Chris Howard & the power of mentoring S2EP8

May 15, 2019

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.

 

 

“We Can Be” is hosted by Heinz Endowments President Grant Oliphant, and produced by the Endowments and Treehouse Media. Theme and incidental music by Josh Slifkin. Guest image by Josh Franzos. Guest inquiries: Scott Roller at sroller@heinz.org.

Art is making souls soar in this rapidly changing neighborhood S02EP07

Art is making souls soar in this rapidly changing neighborhood S02EP07

May 8, 2019

“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.”

 

“We Can Be” is hosted by The Heinz Endowments President Grant Oliphant, and produced by the Endowments and Treehouse Media. Theme music by Josh Slifkin, with incidental music by Giuseppe Capolupo. Guest image by Josh Franzos. Guest inquiries: Scott Roller at sroller@heinz.org

As environmental stakes rise, Emily Collins helps the underserved get a fair shake S02EP06

As environmental stakes rise, Emily Collins helps the underserved get a fair shake S02EP06

May 1, 2019

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 and the Fair Shake team work 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.”

 

“We Can Be” is hosted by Heinz Endowments President Grant Oliphant, and produced by the Endowments and Treehouse Media. 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. For guest consideration, contact Scott Roller at sroller@heinz.org

Trayvon Martin’s activism legacy: mother Sybrina Fulton, Jasiri X & Black Lives Matter stand strong S2E5

Trayvon Martin’s activism legacy: mother Sybrina Fulton, Jasiri X & Black Lives Matter stand strong S2E5

April 24, 2019

Sybrina Fulton is the mother of slain teen Trayvon Martin, and Jasiri X is the co-founder of 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 (The Trayvon Martin Foundation).

 

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 of her son, whose death sparked the Black Lives Matter movement. “I stand for the other mothers who cannot.”

 

“We Can Be” is hosted by Heinz Endowments President Grant Oliphant, and produced by the Endowments and Treehouse Media. Theme music by Josh Slifkin. Incidental music by James Royce and Isaiah Small. Guest image by Josh Franzos.

Very Smart Brothas’ Damon Young: the hyper-cognizance & beauty of being black in America S2E04

Very Smart Brothas’ Damon Young: the hyper-cognizance & beauty of being black in America S2E04

April 17, 2019

With over 2.5 million weekly “Very Smart Brothas” readers, a GQ column and new Harper Collins 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 teenager Antwon Rose II by a white former East Pittsburgh police officer, the conversation about homophobia he hopes is sparked by a chapter in his new book, and how systemic inequality has led him to experience the “hyper-cognizance” of his blackness.

 

Damon talks with host Grant Oliphant about why Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix comedy special “Nanette” is definitely in his “love” column, and whether having an infant son really means that he can “finally start respecting men as people.”

 

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.”

 

 

“We Can Be” is hosted by The Heinz Endowments President Grant Oliphant, and produced by the Endowments and Treehouse Media. Theme and incidental music by Josh Slifkin. Guest image by Josh Franzos. This episode contains adult language.

Archeology, family & fantasy: the fantastic Afrofuturist art of Alisha Wormsley S2E03

Archeology, family & fantasy: the fantastic Afrofuturist art of Alisha Wormsley S2E03

April 10, 2019

“THERE ARE BLACK PEOPLE IN THE FUTURE," in cut-out white letters on the black background of a steel billboard, stood high above Pittsburgh’s rapidly changing East Liberty neighborhood last spring – and brought 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” AMC television show have all influenced the smart, moving, beautiful, and absolutely vital art of Alisha Wormsley.

 

 

“We Can Be” is hosted by The Heinz Endowments President Grant Oliphant, and produced by the Endowments and Treehouse Media. Theme music by Josh Slifkin; incidental music by Giuseppe Capolupo. Guest image by Josh Franzos. Billboard image: thelastbillboard.com

Tree of Life leaders: “We didn’t think about courage; we thought about doing the right thing” S2E02

Tree of Life leaders: “We didn’t think about courage; we thought about doing the right thing” S2E02

April 3, 2019

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 were among those that 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.”

 

 

“We Can Be” is hosted by Heinz Endowments president Grant Oliphant, and produced by the Endowments and Treehouse Media. Theme and incidental music composed and performed by Josh Slifkin. Guest and header images by Josh Franzos.

In aftermath of tragedy at Tree of Life synagogue, random acts of beauty & unity are the new normal (S02EP01)

In aftermath of tragedy at Tree of Life synagogue, random acts of beauty & unity are the new normal (S02EP01)

March 27, 2019

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.”

 

 

“We Can Be” is hosted by The Heinz Endowments President Grant Oliphant, and produced by the Endowments and Treehouse Media. Theme and incidental music composed and performed by Josh Slifkin. Guest and header image by Josh Franzos.