The Sum of Us


Episode 1 — Why Can’t We Have Nice Things?

As president of a national think tank, Heather McGhee thought that the most important change came out of Washington. But as the years passed and she saw the limitations of the law to make real change, she started wondering: Why can’t we all have nice things in this country? Like good schools, jobs and healthcare?

In the first episode of the season, we’ll meet Heather as she takes to the road to try and find answers. And she finds her first clue in an unlikely place: a drained public pool.

Episode 2 — Memphis, TN: The Sweetest Water In The World

In 2020, Memphis residents began to hear rumors that a company called Plains All American was set to build a 49-mile oil pipeline through the city. At first, the pipeline appeared inevitable, planned to run through a “sacrifice zone” of all-Black neighborhoods that had already been poisoned by nearby heavy industry. But when local environmentalists discovered the pipeline would threaten Memphis’ prized drinking water, they joined forces with a charismatic 26-year-old, Justin Pearson, to build a multi-racial coalition that united Black and white neighborhoods in this segregated city to protect their hometown’s treasured water.

Episode 3 — Orlando, FL: The Land of Second Chances

Republican Congressional aide Neil Volz was convicted for conspiring to bribe members of Congress. Desmond Meade was a Black military veteran who fell into addiction, homelessness and prison. As people with a felony record, they were both stripped of their vote in the state of Florida. A chance encounter led to Desmond recruiting Neil, a white conservative, to join his audacious campaign to overturn the Jim Crow era felony voting ban. Their shared belief in second chances formed the basis of an unlikely friendship—and that friendship was one of the secret weapons in a broad multiracial, cross-partisan coalition that unleashed one of the largest expansions of voting rights in US history.

Episode 4 — Kansas City, MO: Flipping Burgers

Terrence Wise was a Black man flipping burgers at a McDonald’s in Kansas City, Missouri. Bridget Hughes was a white woman punching the clock at a local Burger King. Neither saw a way out of their dead-end jobs until they teamed up to join the movement for a living wage. These improbable modern-day labor leaders share the story of their friendship and how they came to see racism as the common enemy in the battle against poverty in America.


Heather McGhee’s travel diary about the surprising cross-cultural connections that are rebuilding the American community, from rural Maine to the California coast and everywhere in between 


A longtime advocate and policy expert with unrivaled empathy and talent for speaking to folks from all walks of life, Heather McGhee approaches our divided country the way Anthony Bourdain treated the world.

Over nine episodes, we’ll follow her as she travels from rural Maine to the California coast and everywhere in between, unspooling stories of extraordinary Americans who are crossing demographic, cultural, and political lines to build a better future for all of us.

Introducing: The Sum of Us

On the heels of her bestselling book, Heather McGhee embarks on a road trip across Covid-era America, unearthing stories of American hope and solidarity in a time of great division and peril for our democracy. Join Heather on her journey —from rural Maine to the coast of California and everywhere in between— as she meets extraordinary Americans who are crossing demographic, cultural and political lines to build a better future for all of us.


Meet the Team

Host and Creator: Heather McGhee

Original Music and Theme Song by: Thee Sacred Souls

Editors: Sandy Rattley and Maria Garcia

Senior Producers: Nicole Rothwell, Jeanne Montalvo, and Fernanda Echavarri

Producers: Cassim Shepard, Ryan Kailath, Emilce Quiroz, Joaquín Cotler and Juan Diego Ramirez, with help from Liliana Ruiz, Sophia Lo, Susanna Kemp and Alissa Vladimir

Mix Engineers: Stephanie Lebow and Julia Caruso

Researchers: Lynn Kanter and Carolyn Lipka

Executive Producer for Futuro Studios: Marlon Bishop

Executive Producers for Higher Ground: Mukta Mohan, Dan Fierman, Anna Holmes, and Janae Marable

Editorial Assistant for Higher Ground: Jenna Levin

Executive Producers for Spotify: Daniel Ek, Dawn Ostroff, Julie McNamara and Corinne Gilliard


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