Jay Ruderman, who has focused much of his life’s work on advocating for people with disabilities, shares the stories of high-profile activists on his “All Inclusive” podcast.
Will 2022 be the year of the podcast?
Perhaps 2021 already was that year. Television personalities, newspaper columnists, philanthropists, educators, religious leaders, and various other professionals across sectors are increasingly picking up the microphone as a platform for creatively expressing themselves and responding to key developments in the news.
For Ruderman Family Foundation President Jay Ruderman, podcasting is a platform for amplifying the voices of his fellow activists from all walks of life. On his All Inclusive podcast, he interviews leaders and experts across a wide array of industries on the latest news, technology, and advocacy pertaining to social justice. Ruderman and the program’s guests share the mindset that in order to make progress that will lead to an innovative future, honest discussions must be held.
Now in its fourth season, the podcast has hosted high-profile guests such as actors Cheryl Hines, Fran Drescher, and Tony Goldwyn; Managing Editor of PBS NewsHour Judy Woodruff; and Chief Operating Officer of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Christine Simmons.
“Highlighting the work of other changemakers, whether they are well-known or fly relatively under the radar, is a significant part of my passion as an activist,” Ruderman said. “The podcast is a platform for making sure their unique journeys receive the audience they deserve, thereby enabling them to inspire further activism.”
Ruderman added, “Our lineup of guests is intentionally diverse and inclusive. You don’t need to agree with every opinion you hear on the podcast or be aligned with every form of advocacy described by our guests. You just need to be open to hearing diverse stories of people advocating for social change — personal stories that have shaped activism.”
Pushing for change in Hollywood
Ruderman, who has focused much of his life’s work on seeking social justice by advocating for people with disabilities worldwide, has in recent years spearheaded a campaign to ignite disruptive change in Hollywood by advocating for more inclusive and authentic casting decisions. He has led efforts to secure pledges from major U.S. broadcasters and studios — including CBS, NBC, Paramount Pictures, and Sony Pictures Entertainment — to audition actors with disabilities in each new studio production. He was also behind a separate pledge signed by a host of A-list actors and directors which called on studio, production, and network executives to commit to creating more opportunities for people with disabilities. Among those who signed that pledge were Oscar winners George Clooney and Joaquin Phoenix, Oscar nominees Ed Norton, Bryan Cranston and Mark Ruffalo, actors Glenn Close and Eva Longoria, and Oscar-winning director Peter Farrelly.
Sharing this mission of advocating for authentic representation and greater inclusion in Hollywood is Christine Simmons, who said on the All Inclusive podcast this past October, “When you invest in these diverse communities, when you focus on them, when you target them for true partnership, it can truly reap its rewards.”
Commenting on her approach to activism, Simmons said, “Activism is simply an intentionality of every decision you make leading towards that greater good, that greater goal, that is bigger than yourself.”
“You don’t have to be marching to be an activist. It literally is the soul of who you are,” she added.
A legacy of activism
Ruderman was born into a legacy of activism, and the podcast represents his latest effort to not only keep that legacy alive, but to expand it.
When his father and the founder of the Boston-based foundation, Mort Ruderman, learned about the absence of children with disabilities in Jewish day school classrooms, the family felt this systematic exclusion was an affront to their Jewish values. They agreed to focus on correcting this injustice, committing the foundation to advancing the inclusion of children and adults with disabilities as a social justice imperative. Mort eventually tapped Jay, an attorney by trade, to lead the foundation. Jay’s experience with civil rights issues enabled him immediately to understand the disability community as a socially, economically, and politically excluded and segregated class, intimately shaping his leadership of the foundation.
In the realm of another one of Jay Ruderman’s areas of activism — ending the stigma associated with mental health — podcast guest Kevin Hines said in August, “If you say you’re living with, fighting with, and battling and thriving despite of your diagnosis or struggle, you then become the hero of your own story. Fight to become that hero.”
Hines is a suicide prevention speaker who gained nationwide fame for surviving an attempt at taking his own life by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
“You don’t have to think about the future, you don’t have to dwell on the past,” Hines said. “You have to focus on right here, right now, and being here tomorrow.”
The podcast’s November 1 episode with body-positive icon Sean Taylor, meanwhile, illustrates the program’s practice of conducting interviews that bring to light starkly honest conversations on social issues. Many would even view these topics as “controversial” activism, but Ruderman does not shy away from them.
Best known from the first season of the Netflix reality show “The Circle,” in which contestants rate each other based on their profiles and interactions on a fake social media network, Taylor broke down fat activism and discussed how she inspires her almost 200,000 social media followers. Regarding how she has embraced the word “fat,” Taylor said on the podcast, “I kind of have reclaimed it as a neutral descriptor, is what a lot of people will say, and that has actually helped me a lot in my self-love and acceptance journey.”
The fight against antisemitism
Ruderman’s extensive personal and professional background in the American Jewish community makes the subject of rising antisemitism — as well as all forms of hate and bigotry — a highly relevant topic for the podcast.
In the podcast’s November 15 episode, renowned Holocaust historian Dr. Deborah Lipstadt said, “Antisemitism is not just a threat to the Jews. It’s a threat to the democratic society, which we still treasure…So, if you value this democratic society, this fragile democratic society in which we live, you’ve got to fight against all forms of prejudice.”
Lipstadt also said that prejudice “is inherently irrational, and to try to find a rational explanation as to why these people might have turned to antisemitism is almost to legitimize it.”
In its interviews with celebrities, the podcast also uncovers lesser-known layers of those public figures’ personal identities and professional journeys.
“The Nanny” star Fran Drescher used her time on All Inclusive to tell the story of why she insisted that her character on the CBS sitcom would remain Jewish after the network attempted to make the character Italian.
“Well, the character was always written as Jewish because it was created for me,” Drescher said on the October 4 episode. “If I didn’t stand firm on how this character must be written and the show failed, I would have a very difficult time living with the fact that I didn’t do it my way.”
The December 13 episode with Tony Goldwyn from ABC’s Scandal explores how the actor — after directing the 2010 film Conviction, a true story about a man wrongfully convicted of murder — became a member of the Innocence Project’s Board of Trustees. The story of a man who was exonerated through DNA evidence after spending 18 and a half years in prison “awakened me to the fractures in our criminal justice system and to the reality of wrongful conviction in general,” Goldwyn said.
“When I’m making stories that are connected to issues that I care about, I really feel like I’m doing the best version of my work,” he said. “To me, it’s about finding ways to bring people together in conversation and to be able to connect with people just at a lower temperature where those kinds of polarizing flashpoints are not in the conversation.”
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