Heather McGhee, author of New York Times bestseller, The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Togethera deeply empathetic and heartfelt analysis of the real impact of inequality and racism on everyday Americans, is now embarking on a new venture: a podcast. The podcast, also entitled, The Sum of Us, picks up where the book left off – documenting Heather’s journey across the country as she looks to answer the question, ‘is multiracial organizing possible in a country so divided?’ Along the way, the series will focus on stories of unlikely connections and shared humanity across cultural divides; uplifting listeners and creating an avenue to educate and inspire those looking for solution-oriented resources to create change in their own communities.

Before writing The Sum of Us, Heather worked as a public policy advocate, addressing problems in the American economy such as poverty, student debts, and the racial wealth gap. However, she noticed that despite all the work she was doing, the inequality kept getting worse. In 2017, she began asking herself, “why does it seem like we can’t have nice things?” Heather decided it was time to delve deeper into this question. “I decided to quit my dream job and hit the road to find out what was holding us back from having nice things for all families – things like universal childcare and health care, paid family leave, and well-funded public schools in every neighborhood. That journey was a big research project, but it took me out of the spreadsheets and into the streets. As a result, I was inspired to write a book about it, and The Sum of Us was born from this project.”

After writing the book which was released in February of 2021, the most common question Heather got from readers was, “how can you still be hopeful?” Although she admits that her hope had dimmed, especially amidst the pandemic and the January 6th insurrection, Heather decided she wanted to continue the conversations but focus on the kind of the stories she ended the book with—the hopeful stories of people coming together across lines of race to make their communities better. Speaking of her journey into the podcast space, Heather relays that wasn’t something she originally saw herself doing. “I’m not a podcast person. I feel like there are two kinds of people in the world now, those who are addicted to podcasts and those who barely listen to any. I’m the latter. But I decided to bring the idea to the Obamas’ audio production company, Higher Ground Audio, because I had a feeling that these were the kind of stories they wanted to tell. Stories that are hopeful, diverse, nuanced, and unexpected.”

Image: courtesy of Spotify.

With episodes ranging from 20 mins to an hour, the podcast is an anecdote to the high volume of bad news we get through traditional media, offering nine hopeful stories from all across America, showcasing people coming together to tackle big problems. “I’m excited to share the main idea of The Sum of Us – both the original book and now this spin-off podcast—with more people. That’s the idea that racism ultimately has a cost for everyone because it keeps us from joining together to win nice things for all of us. When we put aside our distrust and prejudice, we can accomplish real change together. If you haven’t read my book, that’s no barrier. You can dive right in because this podcast is written for a broad audience. For those who read the book, you’ll enjoy hearing a couple of your favorite characters come to life, and then fall in love with even more people.”

The Sum of Us is being produced by Higher Ground, the production company set up by Barack and Michelle Obama, and made its debut on July 27th. Episode 1 and episode 2 are already available for listening. Michelle Obama, speaking of the series, says, Too often these days, it feels like we’re more divided than ever and the stories in this podcast are a great way to remind us that there will always be good folks all over this country who are working to bring us closer together. I’ll be honest with you, I just love this series. It’s inspiring and energizing and I have a feeling that you’ll feel the same way.”