We Can Be podcast - The Heinz Endowments
Spinning our moral compass: Rabbi Ron Symons on why centuries-old traditions may be the secret to navigating race, wage & immigrant issues. SE01E10

Spinning our moral compass: Rabbi Ron Symons on why centuries-old traditions may be the secret to navigating race, wage & immigrant issues. SE01E10

May 9, 2018

Rabbi Ron Symons grew up a few train stops away from vibrant, multi-cultural Manhattan in New York City. He now shares his world view of accepting everyone as part of his leadership role at the Center for Loving Kindness and Civic Engagement, an initiative of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.

 

His journey has taken some eye-opening turns — including a 2014 arrest for standing up for living wages — as he has become an outspoken voice on social justice issues, including race relations, gun violence, and immigrant and refugee causes.

 

Rabbi Symons believes we imperil our future if we ignore our past, and points to a 225-year-old speech by a U.S. Founding Father that he feels speaks to today’s “two Americas.” “We have a responsibility to listen to each other,” he says. “Just because we differ, it doesn’t mean we have to demonize the opposition.”

 

He also describes to “We Can Be” host and Endowments President Grant Oliphant why it’s critical that we keep learning at all ages, how a childhood event sparked empathy in him, and why in today’s political atmosphere we must be consciously vigilant in ensuring that our moral compasses are not spinning out of control.

 

Rabbi Symons is clear in his belief that we have more similarities than we have differences, and therein may lie the secret to advancing a more equitable society. Life “is a people-to-people experiment,” he says. “We share the same stories, but with different scripts.”

 

Hear Rabbi Ron Symon’s story of hope and the world-altering power of community — plus a “Game of Thrones” tale that brings a new perspective to our fascination with walls — on this episode of “We Can Be.”

 

“We Can Be” is hosted by The Heinz Endowments Grant Oliphant and produced by the Endowments and Treehouse Media. Theme music is composed by John Dziuban, with incidental music by Josh Slifkin. Guest booking information: Scott Roller sroller@heinz.org

R2-D2, Illah & Ethics: How robotics & AI genius Illah Nourbakhsh was inspired to use his superpowers for good SE01E09

R2-D2, Illah & Ethics: How robotics & AI genius Illah Nourbakhsh was inspired to use his superpowers for good SE01E09

May 2, 2018

Illah Nourbakhsh’s journey began with his birth in Iran, and has since taken him around the world as a leader in robotics and artificial intelligence. The Carnegie Mellon University robotics professor and director of the Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment (CREATE) Lab stands out among roboticists for the projects he works on — most notably not Department of Defense programs — and for his commitment to never losing sight of the humans that interact with his creations.

 

“What I do is fundamentally about empowerment,” says Illah, “and I believe technology should always be used for good.”

 

Robotics and artificial intelligence have enormous capacity for adversely affecting our humanity — the “echo chamber” of internet searches and robotic weapons come to mind — but Illah is an unwavering force in advancing technology that makes our world healthier, safer and more equitable. 

 

A celebrated author — “Robot Futures” and “Parenting for Technology Futures” are his most recent books — and captivating speaker, Illah is candid about the role international politics has played in his life, most notably the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, and how it formed his deep sense of empathy. He also describes the moving way a family in Uganda tried to repay him and the CREATE Lab team for improving their home’s air quality.

 

Along the way, Illah shares why a simple question about a Frisbee can reveal the limitations of Siri, what he believes is the most important thing humans should strive to preserve, and how a childhood decision between “Herbie the Love Bug” and “Star Wars” triggered his galactically cool career path.

 

Illah - recently named to a K&L Gates Professorship in Ethics and Computational Technologies at CMU -  is as smart as the universe is wide, funny and kind, and he is using his superpowers for the betterment of humanity.

 

“We Can Be” is hosted by The Heinz Endowments Grant Oliphant and produced by the Endowments and Treehouse Media. Theme music is composed by John Dziuban, with incidental music by Josh Slifkin.

Circles of love: Tammy Thompson draws on her own remarkable journey in her work to break poverty trauma cycles (S01EP08)

Circles of love: Tammy Thompson draws on her own remarkable journey in her work to break poverty trauma cycles (S01EP08)

April 25, 2018

Tammy Thompson was nine when she and her family left a West Virginia coal mining town for the promise of a good-paying job and a new life in Pittsburgh. They shot through the Fort Pitt tunnels, where on the other end the golden bridges and sparkling lights of the city and its rivers burst into dazzling view.

 

Then it all went wrong.

 

As a third-grader, Tammy saw her family’s high hopes and financial stability crumble in ways that still affect them today. But she now heads an arm of national anti-poverty group Circles and is the producer of the documentary film We Wear the Mask: the Hidden Faces of Women in Poverty. She is an undeniable success story, and she spreads knowledge, hope and love to everyone with whom she comes in contact.

 

The trauma of poverty — and the strength from rising out of it — informs all that Tammy does. Her story is very much an American story. It’s a story of loading into the family car and chasing after the promise of a better life only to find it is just the beginning of an even rougher road. And then, against unfathomable odds, overcoming the impossibly difficult circumstances.

 

Tammy is upbeat, smart and brings energy and empathy to all who come into her own circle. Don’t miss the story of her journey, her perhaps surprising thoughts on gentrification, and her belief that going “beyond survival into ‘thrival’ ” should — and must — be our goal.

 

We Can Be is hosted by The Heinz Endowments Grant Oliphant and produced by the Endowments and Treehouse Media. Theme music is composed by John Dziuban, with incidental music by Josh Slifkin.

Humor, Rap, Poetry & Love: the New Muslim Cool of Hamza Perez (S01E07)

Humor, Rap, Poetry & Love: the New Muslim Cool of Hamza Perez (S01E07)

April 18, 2018

“God writes straight with crooked lines” is a popular adage that has been used to describe the journey of Hamza Perez, and he good naturedly agrees. With a life story that’s movie script-worthy, Hamza has walked his path with humor, humility, music and openness. He is founder of the YA-NE (Youth Alliance of Networking and Empowerment) at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, co-founder of Light of the Age Mosque and a spiritual advisor for communities in Hartford, CT and Springfield, MA.

 

In this conversation, he shares why Emma González is the future, tackles the role of race in our country’s drug epidemic, and is clear on why understanding the difference between “old” and “elder” is key to our progress on the arc of justice. Named one of the world’s 500 most influential Muslims by the Royal Strategic Islamic Center, he is smart, funny and hopeful – and he’s making a difference in how many perceive Muslims in the world today.

 

From his Catholic upbringing in Brooklyn to his present-day youth leadership in the Muslim community in Pittsburgh – with stops along the way as a drug dealer with his own apartment by age 18, and in rap duo M-Team with brother Suliman – Hamza has made defying perceptions his life’s work.

 

Hamza’s route from a Puerto Rican Catholic family to a Muslim leader in the Mid-Atlantic has been one with many turns, and that is just what makes him – and his work – so engaging. His life thus far has been about overcoming perceptions – of what he could become, where he could go, what he should believe – of family, friends and in some instances a suspicious and hostile world. Hamza is the subject of a PBS film New Muslim Cool, and he is a positive and hopeful force in our world.

 

“We Can Be” is hosted by The Heinz Endowments Grant Oliphant and produced by the Endowments and Treehouse Media. Theme music is composed by John Dziuban, with incidental music by Josh Slifkin.

A Story of Two Wilsons: Janis Burley Wilson grew up in an arts-loving family in playwright August Wilson’s hometown, and now she leads his namesake Center for African American Culture.  (S01E06)

A Story of Two Wilsons: Janis Burley Wilson grew up in an arts-loving family in playwright August Wilson’s hometown, and now she leads his namesake Center for African American Culture. (S01E06)

April 11, 2018

Two Wilsons – Janis Burley Wilson and playwright August Wilson – have intersected in ways both meaningful and magical. The first Wilson is Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson, and the present-day Wilson is Janis Burley Wilson, who leads the August Wilson Center for African American Culture as its president and CEO.

 

Having grown up in August Wilson’s hometown, when Burley Wilson read his plays she recognized the locales he wrote about as places where her extended family lived and thrived. As Janis herself says, that she grew up in the world-renowned playwright's hometown and now leads his namesake Center is “fascinating and amazing.”

 

The building itself – a soaring, modern yet accessible ship-like structure that rises skyward from the street – has a history with as many twists, turns and emotional peaks and valleys as one of Mr. Wilson’s plays. After opening to grand acclaim in 2009, five years later it was nearly lost to developers after serious financial difficulties. Now on steady ground, the Center is poised to fulfill its promise as an internationally prominent space for African-American arts.

 

This episode of We Can Be blends Ms. Burley Wilson's words, Mr. Wilson’s lyrical text, and the wondorous thoughts of young people experiencing the spectacular architecture of the August Wilson Center. Burley Wilson recalls a childhood memory that nearly all of us share: hearing music through the walls and down the hall after we’ve gone to bed at night. For Ms. Burley Wilson, though, that music helped set her inner compass on a path that led her to a life’s work that helps ensure generations to come will know the depth and richness of African American culture.

 

We Can Be is hosted by The Heinz Endowments Grant Oliphant and produced by the Endowments and Treehouse Media. Theme music is composed by John Dziuban, with incidental music by James Royce.

 

For guest inquiries, please contact Scott Roller at sroller@heinz.org

From Miami to the Midwest: Change Agency’s Betty Cruz has made it her life’s work to make her city a welcoming place for immigrants. (S01E05)

From Miami to the Midwest: Change Agency’s Betty Cruz has made it her life’s work to make her city a welcoming place for immigrants. (S01E05)

April 4, 2018

All across the Untied States, cities that grew out of the industrial age were founded on the strength of immigrants who provided power to steel mills, gave rise to majestic buildings and infused life into its streets and neighborhoods.

 

While today’s immigrants encounter many of the same biases and obstacles that their predecessors faced, they have a champion in Change Agency Founder and Director Betty Cruz. Ms. Cruz joins The Heinz Endowments’ Grant Oliphant in a conversation about what it means to truly be a nation, a community, of We.

 

Our nation, our cities, our neighborhoods were founded and fueled by the minds, dreams, art and hard work of immigrants, yet the climate for immigrants today is perhaps the most challenging it has been for decades. The national debate over DACA (Deferred Action Childhood Arrival) and migrant caravans in Mexico have brought immigrant issues to the forefront of the national conversation. 

 

It is out of this atmosphere - and a belief in the value and agency of every human being - that Change Agency was born. Cruz shares why Change Agency's time is now, how she finds hope in challenging times, the stories modern day immigrants and what she’s learned about herself through her own journey from Miami to the Midwest.

 

We Can Be is hosted by The Heinz Endowments Grant Oliphant and produced by the Endowments and Treehouse Media in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Theme music is composed by John Dziuban, with incidental music by Josh Slifkin.

Center for Coalfield Justice’s Veronica Coptis and her fight for one rural America county’s environmental justice (S01EP04)

Center for Coalfield Justice’s Veronica Coptis and her fight for one rural America county’s environmental justice (S01EP04)

March 28, 2018

Those living in rural towns where coal has long been the backbone of their economy and culture are often doubly hit with the realities of the shrinking industry: jobs are disappearing while the environmental and health aftereffects of mining adversely affect their mortality.

 

Veronica Coptis tells her story of being born in Pittsburgh, leaving for rural Greene County in the southwestern-most corner of Pennsylvania when she was in the third grade, and finding a love of the outdoors that to this day fuels her passion for her work as Executive Director of the Center for Coalfield Justice.

 

Coptis has gained national attention for her work - including a The New Yorker magazine feature "The Future of Coal Country" and speaking engagements like the p4 2018 conference - but is dedicated first and foremost to her beloved Greene County.

 

Coptis knows it’s a tough sell, but her family raised her to be strong and thoughtful, and with a deep respect for her community she makes a compelling case for holding coal companies accountable. 

 

We Can Be is hosted by The Heinz Endowments Grant Oliphant and produced by the Endowments and Treehouse Media. Theme music is composed by John Dziuban, with incidental music by Josh Slifkin.

Actor/writer David Conrad’s long journey home, identity of place, and the key role artists play in shaping our future (S01 EP03)

Actor/writer David Conrad’s long journey home, identity of place, and the key role artists play in shaping our future (S01 EP03)

March 21, 2018

Actor/writer David Conrad discusses why the most striking sound in an industrial town is silence, where his own creative plans will take him next and the integral role the arts play in the future of our communities and nation.

 

Actor (Wedding Crashers, Ghost Whisperer, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and writer (Pittsburgh Magazine columnist) David Conrad splits his time among a diverse slate of places - Los Angeles, New York City, London and Braddock, Pa., and talks about what made him realize his place, how the identity of a place can change and why knowing a place’s history is the key to its future.

 

Through his travels David has seen firsthand how the identity of a place – a town, city, state or country – is affected by the culture and history of its people. He shares how that identity can affect how we see ourselves, each other and the world, and its role in forming our politics.

 

 

We Can Be is hosted by The Heinz Endowments Grant Oliphant and produced by the Endowments and Treehouse Media. Theme music is composed by John Dziuban, with incidental music by Josh Slifkin. For guest consideration, please contact Scott Roller at sroller.heinz.org. 

Kazakhstan candy, a Wisconsin dairy farm, PBS and innovative investigative news: the fantastic journey of PublicSource Exec. Director Mila Sanina (S01EP02)

Kazakhstan candy, a Wisconsin dairy farm, PBS and innovative investigative news: the fantastic journey of PublicSource Exec. Director Mila Sanina (S01EP02)

March 14, 2018

Born in the Soviet Union and raised in Kazakhstan – with stops at a Wisconsin dairy farm and CNN and PBS News Hour along the way - Mila Sanina’s journey to leadership in the investigative news field is extraordinary.

As Executive Director of PublicSource, Mila believes in the power of ideas, words and stories to change our brain chemistry and the character of our interactions with each other and the world.

Hear her stories of childhood entrepreneurship selling candy on the street in Kazakhstan, the threats against her family during her first reporting job, and how her belief in giving the power of voice to those most affected by a divisive public dialogue keeps her energized.

 

PublicSource is a non-partisan, nonprofit, digital-first media organization founded in 2011 and dedicated to public service journalism.

 

We Can Be is hosted by The Heinz Endowments Grant Oliphant and produced by the Endowments and Treehouse Media. Theme music is composed by John Dziuban, with incidental music by Josh Slifkin.

Post-9/11 vets’ unique role in a more perfect union w/ Nick Grimes of Veterans Breakfast Club (S01EP01)

Post-9/11 vets’ unique role in a more perfect union w/ Nick Grimes of Veterans Breakfast Club (S01EP01)

February 28, 2018

The role post-9/11 vets can play in bridging racial and cultural divides comes to light as Veterans' Breakfast Club's Nick Grimes talks about his journey with The Heinz Endowments' Grant Oliphant in the inaugural episode of We Can Be.

Learn about the misconceptions that post-9/11 veterans face, the culture shock they experience when returning home and why saying "thank you for your service" can be discomforting for them. Grimes details his evolution from being a young evangelical conservative from Mobile, Ala., to the open-minded director of The Veterans Breakfast Club's Post-9/11 Veterans Storytelling Project and an advocate for continuing to strive for a "more perfect union."  

The Veterans Breakfast Club has gained national attention for its work in creating communities of listening around veterans and their stories to ensure their living history will never be forgotten.