Almost There

Emerson Collective

A podcast about the original thinkers and unexpected ideas that could remake our world for the better.

  • 34 minutes 50 seconds
    The anti-slavery roots of America’s public parks

    When Hurricane Katrina barreled toward her home stretch of the Gulf Coast, Sara Zewde had not yet decided what she wanted to do professionally. But the aftermath of the storm inspired her to work across ecology, infrastructure, and culture as a landscape architect. Today, she runs Studio Zewde, a landscape-architecture practice based in New York City, and is an assistant professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. As one of just a few Black female landscape architects, she is dedicated to building culturally-responsive spaces where people experience a sense of belonging. “People walk around Central Park, around landscapes, around sidewalks and street corners, and don’t realize they are living in somebody’s design,” she says. “Every single tree, every single path, all the topography – it’s a complete work of fiction.” 

    In this episode, Sara tells Dwayne about her interest in Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of landscape architecture in the U.S. and the designer of New York’s Central Park, who, she learned, traveled the American South as a journalist and documented the horrors of slavery there – an experience that came to fundamentally shape his approach to park design. 

    For more on the work of our guest, Sara Zewde: https://www.emersoncollective.com/persons/sara-zewde  

    To learn more about our show and read the transcript of this episode: emersoncollective.com/almost-there. 

    For more on Emerson Collective: https://www.emersoncollective.com/

    Learn more about our host, Reginald Dwayne Betts: https://www.dwaynebetts.com/

    Almost There is produced by Eric Nuzum and Jesse Baker of Magnificent Noise for Emerson Collective. Our production staff includes Eleanor Kagan, Julia Natt, Patrick D’Arcy, Amy Low, Alex Simon, and our sound designers Paul Schneider and Kristin Mueller. 

    Email us at [email protected]

    To learn more about listener data and our privacy practices visit: https://www.audacyinc.com/privacy-policy

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    28 November 2023, 5:00 am
  • 19 minutes 20 seconds
    Is it possible to build a great school in a prison?

    Each year, more than 200,000 young people are held in hundreds of juvenile-detention centers across the U.S., many of which do not provide a quality education to the students in their care. David Domenici is working to change that. He co-founded the Maya Angelou Schools, a successful network of alternative schools in Washington, D.C. that includes the Maya Angelou Academy, located inside Washington’s juvenile-correctional facility. In 2011, he founded BreakFree Education, which works closely with teachers and incarcerated students to advocate for policy change and advise prison educational programs. “By ensuring young people in prison receive the education they deserve, we can help restore their humanity and dignity, and positively influence the institutions that hold them captive,” David says.


    In this episode, David tells Dwayne about transforming the notorious Oak Hill juvenile facility into the Maya Angelou Academy; the books that have changed the lives of his students; and why it’s so important to see all young people – in and out of prison – as students first. Plus, Dwayne reads an excerpt of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk

    For more on the work of our guest, David Domenici: https://www.emersoncollective.com/persons/david-domenici 

    To learn more about our show and read the transcript of this episode: emersoncollective.com/almost-there-podcast 

    For more on Emerson Collective: https://www.emersoncollective.com/

    Learn more about our host, Reginald Dwayne Betts: https://www.dwaynebetts.com/

    Almost There is produced by Eric Nuzum and Jesse Baker of Magnificent Noise for Emerson Collective. Our production staff includes Eleanor Kagan, Julia Natt, Patrick D’Arcy, Amy Low, Alex Simon, and our sound designers Paul Schneider and Kristin Mueller. 

    Email us at [email protected]

    To learn more about listener data and our privacy practices visit: https://www.audacyinc.com/privacy-policy

    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit https://podcastchoices.com/adchoices

    21 November 2023, 5:00 am
  • 31 minutes 16 seconds
    When Black mothers have the financial freedom to dream

    In 2018, Aisha Nyandoro launched what is today the longest-running guaranteed income program in the U.S. after doing something radical: asking Black women what they needed most. The support of monthly cash payments of $1,000 from the Magnolia’s Mothers Trust has allowed Black mothers in Jackson, Mississippi to put food on the table, do that long-delayed car repair, enroll a child in their first dance class, or save for a family home. Now, Aisha wants to reimagine the social safety net all together, driven by the insight that what’s most transformative for families is having the financial resources to invest in joy. 

    In this episode, Aisha tells Dwayne the reason she moved back home to Jackson, Mississippi; about the meaning she finds in one of her favorite books, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple; and about the liberatory power of free cash. 

    For more on the work of our guest, Aisha Nyandoro: https://www.emersoncollective.com/persons/aisha-nyandoro 

    To learn more about Almost There and to read the transcript of this episode: https://www.emersoncollective.com/almost-there-podcast 

    For more on Emerson Collective: https://www.emersoncollective.com/

    Learn more about our host, Dwayne Betts: https://www.dwaynebetts.com/

    Almost There is produced by Eric Nuzum and Jesse Baker of Magnificent Noise for Emerson Collective. Our production staff includes Eleanor Kagan, Julia Natt, Patrick D’Arcy, Amy Low, Alex Simon, and our sound designers Paul Schneider and Kristin Mueller. 

    Email us at [email protected]

    Subscribe to the Emerson Collective Fellows newsletter: http://www.emersoncollective.com/fellows-newsletter 

    To learn more about listener data and our privacy practices visit: https://www.audacyinc.com/privacy-policy

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    14 November 2023, 5:00 am
  • 31 minutes 14 seconds
    You can do WHAT with seaweed???

    Joan Salwen has a thing for cows. After all, she grew up helping her grandfather tend to the livestock on his farm in Iowa. But as an adult, Joan was shocked to learn that cows are pretty terrible for the environment: they burp huge amounts of methane, a destructive greenhouse gas driving climate change. So she built a company, Blue Ocean Barns, around a surprising solution: making feed with a red seaweed native to Hawaii that dramatically reduces cows’ methane emissions when they eat it in small amounts. It’s an innovation that could make farmers like Joan’s Grandpa Mo heroes in the fight to slow climate change. 

    In the Season One finale, Joan tells Dwayne about her many professional pivots, from software engineer to middle school English teacher to startup founder; and shares what she’s learned from farmers about how we can all care for our planet. Plus, Joan shares fun facts about cows!  

    For more on the work of our guest, Joan Salwen: https://www.emersoncollective.com/persons/joan-salwen 

    To learn more about our show and read the transcript of this episode: emersoncollective.com/almost-there-podcast 

    For more on Emerson Collective: https://www.emersoncollective.com/

    Learn more about our host, Reginald Dwayne Betts: https://www.dwaynebetts.com/

    Almost There is produced by Eric Nuzum and Jesse Baker of Magnificent Noise for Emerson Collective. Our production staff includes Eleanor Kagan, Julia Natt, Patrick D’Arcy, Amy Low, Alex Simon, and our sound designers Paul Schneider and Kristin Mueller. 

    Email us at [email protected]

    To learn more about listener data and our privacy practices visit: https://www.audacyinc.com/privacy-policy

    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit https://podcastchoices.com/adchoices

    7 November 2023, 7:06 pm
  • 29 minutes 53 seconds
    Want to protect democracy? Hug an election official.

    Across the U.S., local election administrators are the unsung heroes of democracy, helping to protect our right to vote. But who is protecting them? Scarce resources and increasing threats of violence are causing many in the profession to find new jobs. Fortunately, Tiana Epps-Johnson has big ideas on how to make their jobs easier. Tiana and her nonpartisan organization, Center for Tech and Civic Life, provide local officials in the U.S. with the funding, technology, and training they need to administer secure, modern elections. “We are laser-focused on a vision where our country’s election officials have the funds, tools, and skills they need to administer professional, inclusive, secure elections for all of us,” Tiana says. 

    In this episode, Tiana reflects on why she considers the 2020 election, which happened in the midst of a global pandemic, so successful; what she has learned about how to help election officials orchestrate successful elections; and what she has learned from her mother and grandmother. Plus, Dwayne reads Tiana his poem, “White Peonies”.  

    For more on the work of our guest, Tiana Epps-Johnson: https://www.emersoncollective.com/persons/tiana-epps-johnson 

    To learn more about our show and read the transcript of this episode: emersoncollective.com/almost-there. 

    For more on Emerson Collective: https://www.emersoncollective.com/

    Learn more about our host, Reginald Dwayne Betts: https://www.dwaynebetts.com/

    Almost There is produced by Eric Nuzum and Jesse Baker of Magnificent Noise for Emerson Collective. Our production staff includes Eleanor Kagan, Julia Natt, Patrick D’Arcy, Amy Low, Alex Simon, and our sound designers Paul Schneider and Kristin Mueller. 

    Email us at [email protected]

    To learn more about listener data and our privacy practices visit: https://www.audacyinc.com/privacy-policy

    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit https://podcastchoices.com/adchoices

    31 October 2023, 5:00 am
  • 46 minutes 21 seconds
    The marvelous connections between poetry and medicine

    Sri Shamasunder likes to say he was a poet before he was a doctor. His college mentor, the legendary poet and activist June Jordan, passed away from cancer during his first year of medical school, but had a lasting impact on his practice of medicine. She encouraged him to harness righteous anger and to use his voice to fight inequity, inspiring Shamasunder’s work as a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and as the co-founder and director of the HEAL Initiative, an equity-based global health fellowship that provides quality care for communities in need around the world. 

    In this episode, Sri and Dwayne discuss the surprising similarities between poetry and medicine; how the HEAL Initiative cultivates “noble friendships” across cultural divides; and the impact of the mentorship of June Jordan and Dr. Paul Farmer on Sri’s life and career. Plus: so much poetry! Poems mentioned in this episode include: 

    "The Gift" by Li-Young Lee: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43010/the-gift-56d221adc12b8 

    "To Walk in Beauty Once Again" by Sri Shamasunder (for Adriann Begay, June 2020): https://courtney.substack.com/p/to-walk-in-beauty-once-again 

    "The Guest House" by Jalaluddin Rumi: https://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poem/guest-house/ 

    "In Blackwater Woods" by Mary Oliver: http://www.phys.unm.edu/~tw/fas/yits/archive/oliver_inblackwaterwoods.html 

    "Our Daily Bread" by César Vallejo: https://www.scribd.com/document/324203734/Our-Daily-Bread# 

    "It’s Hard to Keep a Clean Shirt Clean" by June Jordan (poem for Sri Shamasunder): https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48759/its-hard-to-keep-a-clean-shirt-clean 

    For more on the work of our guest, Sri Shamasunder: https://www.emersoncollective.com/persons/sriram-shamasunder 

    To learn more about our show and read the transcript of this episode: emersoncollective.com/almost-there. 

    For more on Emerson Collective: https://www.emersoncollective.com/

    Learn more about our host, Reginald Dwayne Betts: https://www.dwaynebetts.com/

    Almost There is produced by Eric Nuzum and Jesse Baker of Magnificent Noise for Emerson Collective. Our production staff includes Eleanor Kagan, Julia Natt, Patrick D’Arcy, Amy Low, Alex Simon, and our sound designers Paul Schneider and Kristin Mueller. 

    Email us at [email protected]

    To learn more about listener data and our privacy practices visit: https://www.audacyinc.com/privacy-policy

    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit https://podcastchoices.com/adchoices

    24 October 2023, 5:00 am
  • 30 minutes 36 seconds
    If farmworkers picked the food, shouldn’t they get a seat at the table?

    Tonight at dinner, you are likely to eat something that was picked by a farmworker. This is back-breaking work, involving long hours in the hot sun. And yet farmworkers, many of whom are immigrants to the U.S., often do not have basic workplace protections like heat standards or overtime pay. “The cruel irony in this country is that the very people who nourish us often can’t afford to put food on their own table,” says Diana Tellefson Torres. The granddaughter of a migrant worker herself, Diana’s work at the UFW Foundation is helping ensure farmworkers have a voice in the conversation about their labor and their rights. 

    In this episode, Diana tells Dwayne the story of her own family’s journey to the U.S.; what she has learned from the farmworkers she meets every day; and why we should all know the stories of the people who picked the food on our dinner tables. 

    For more on the work of our guest, Diana Tellefson Torres: https://www.emersoncollective.com/persons/diana-tellefson-torres   

    To learn more about our show and read the transcript of this episode: emersoncollective.com/almost-there. 

    For more on Emerson Collective: https://www.emersoncollective.com/

    Learn more about our host, Reginald Dwayne Betts: https://www.dwaynebetts.com/

    Almost There is produced by Eric Nuzum and Jesse Baker of Magnificent Noise for Emerson Collective. Our production staff includes Eleanor Kagan, Julia Natt, Patrick D’Arcy, Amy Low, Alex Simon, and our sound designers Paul Schneider and Kristin Mueller. 

    Email us at [email protected]

    To learn more about listener data and our privacy practices visit: https://www.audacyinc.com/privacy-policy

    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit https://podcastchoices.com/adchoices

    10 October 2023, 5:00 am
  • 33 minutes 13 seconds
    What the AIDS epidemic taught this nurse about keeping the world healthy

    Sheila Davis began her career as a nurse working on the front lines of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Boston. Today, lessons from that experience guide her work as the CEO of Partners In Health, the global health nonprofit with nearly 20,000 people, providing care across 11 countries, from Rwanda to Haiti. Building on the legacy of PIH founder and Sheila’s longtime friend Dr. Paul Farmer, who died unexpectedly in 2022, Sheila and her team of doctors, nurses, clinicians, and administrators are working to establish medical centers, educate future generations of health care workers, and directly provide care to those who need it most. “We are fighting for global health equity, boldly and unapologetically,” she says.

    In this episode, Sheila talks to Dwayne about the lessons she carries from her time as a nurse into her leadership role at Partners in Health; why joy and beauty are so important to the healing process; and why you should always listen to your driver when you arrive in a foreign country. 

    For more on the work of our guest, Sheila Davis: https://www.emersoncollective.com/persons/sheila-davis 

    To learn more about our show and read the transcript of this episode: emersoncollective.com/almost-there. 

    For more on Emerson Collective: https://www.emersoncollective.com/

    Learn more about our host, Reginald Dwayne Betts: https://www.dwaynebetts.com/

    Almost There is produced by Eric Nuzum and Jesse Baker of Magnificent Noise for Emerson Collective. Our production staff includes Eleanor Kagan, Julia Natt, Patrick D’Arcy, Amy Low, Alex Simon, and our sound designers Paul Schneider and Kristin Mueller. 

    Email us at [email protected]

    To learn more about listener data and our privacy practices visit: https://www.audacyinc.com/privacy-policy

    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit https://podcastchoices.com/adchoices

    3 October 2023, 5:00 am
  • 31 minutes 28 seconds
    You—yes, you—can decide how the government spends money

    Shari Davis first began dreaming about how to empower young people as a teenager, while serving on the Mayor's Youth Council in Boston. In 2014, the Mayor of Boston asked Shari to launch the country's first youth-focused “participatory budgeting” effort—a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. Today, Shari co-leads the Participatory Budgeting Project, which has helped more than 700,000 people in over 30 cities directly decide how to spend $400 million in public funds. The process has led to new art walls, park renovations, student centers, and imaginative public safety efforts. 

    In this episode, Shari and Dwayne talk about the key steps in the participatory budgeting process; real-world examples of participatory budgeting in action; and what the Black martial arts tradition taught Shari about how democracy works. Plus, Shari and Dwayne bond over Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower.

    For more on the work of our guest, Shari Davis: https://www.emersoncollective.com/persons/shari-davis 

    To learn more about our show and read the transcript of this episode: emersoncollective.com/almost-there-podcast 

    For more on Emerson Collective: https://www.emersoncollective.com/

    Learn more about our host, Reginald Dwayne Betts: https://www.dwaynebetts.com/

    Almost There is produced by Eric Nuzum and Jesse Baker of Magnificent Noise for Emerson Collective. Our production staff includes Eleanor Kagan, Julia Natt, Patrick D’Arcy, Amy Low, Alex Simon, and our sound designers Paul Schneider and Kristin Mueller. 

    Email us at [email protected]

    To learn more about listener data and our privacy practices visit: https://www.audacyinc.com/privacy-policy

    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit https://podcastchoices.com/adchoices

    19 September 2023, 5:00 am
  • 31 minutes 14 seconds
    Following the data to a fairer criminal justice system

    You can’t change what you can’t see. And good data, Amy Bach believes, is one of the keys to seeing what’s not working in our criminal justice system. She is the founder of Measures for Justice, a nonpartisan, non-profit organization developing data tools to help both community advocates and law enforcement reshape how the criminal justice system works. Amy believes that data trends from a local criminal justice system – like the racial disparities in diversions for felony convictions, for instance – can become tools to help communities advocate for real change, and can, at the same time, be a way for prosecutors to demonstrate a commitment to reform. “When we can see where things go wrong, we can work to make them right,” Amy says.

    In this episode, Amy and Dwayne talk about Commons, a new criminal justice data platform; what’s possible when data is used to start difficult, community-driven conversations about reform; and why data can ultimately only ever tell part of the story. Plus, Dwayne reads a Langston Hughes poem to Amy. 

    For more on the work of our guest, Amy Bach: 

    To learn more about our show and read the transcript of this episode: emersoncollective.com/almost-there-podcast 

    For more on Emerson Collective: https://www.emersoncollective.com/

    Learn more about our host, Reginald Dwayne Betts: https://www.dwaynebetts.com/

    Almost There is produced by Eric Nuzum and Jesse Baker of Magnificent Noise for Emerson Collective. Our production staff includes Eleanor Kagan, Julia Natt, Patrick D’Arcy, Amy Low, Alex Simon, and our sound designers Paul Schneider and Kristin Mueller. 

    Email us at [email protected]

    To learn more about listener data and our privacy practices visit: https://www.audacyinc.com/privacy-policy

    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit https://podcastchoices.com/adchoices

    12 September 2023, 5:00 am
  • 34 minutes 57 seconds
    How to teach history in a divided America? Let students think for themselves

    Chuck Yarborough is a sixth-generation Mississippian who teaches American history at one of the best high schools in the state, The Mississippi School of Mathematics and Science. In the midst of a national debate on how we teach American history to young people, Chuck doesn’t just rely on textbooks. Instead, he sends his students to original sources to research overlooked and untold histories, helping them turn what they learn into vivid public performance for their community. “I try to create spaces where students can engage with difficult topics, in an environment where they can be honest and where all they are going to be met with is love,” Chuck says.


    In this episode, Chuck tells Dwayne about the childhood birthday party that changed his life; about the memorable public performances of his students, which take place in graveyards; and his guiding principles as a high school teacher. Plus, hear excerpts of performances from Chuck’s students, Dairian Bowles and Madison Echols.

    For more on the work of our guest, Chuck Yarborough: https://www.emersoncollective.com/persons/chuck-yarborough

    To learn more about our show and read the transcript of this episode: emersoncollective.com/almost-there-podcast

    For more on Emerson Collective: https://www.emersoncollective.com/

    Learn more about our host, Reginald Dwayne Betts: https://www.dwaynebetts.com/

    Almost There is produced by Eric Nuzum and Jesse Baker of Magnificent Noise for Emerson Collective. Our production staff includes Eleanor Kagan, Julia Natt, Patrick D’Arcy, Amy Low, Alex Simon, and our sound designers Paul Schneider and Kristin Mueller.

    Email us at [email protected].

    To learn more about listener data and our privacy practices visit: https://www.audacyinc.com/privacy-policy

    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit https://podcastchoices.com/adchoices

    29 August 2023, 5:00 am
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