Essential Voices with Wilmer Valderrama

Essential Voices with Wilmer Valderrama

The Covid-19 pandemic introduced the term “Essential Workers” for a class of people who existed before and will persist long after the virus is gone. Vital to society, but rarely heard from, this “essential” class is often hit hardest by the imbalances and injustices of our culture. In each episode, host Wilmer Valderrama will have intimate conversations with people on the frontlines of the food system, transportation, child-care and other workers who are so often overlooked. That conversation leads to a round-table discussion with activists and politically-active celebrities, discussing themes, issues and areas of needed change. The show seeks to reveal the invisible connections between all of us.


May 10, 2022 66 min

The crew of Essential Voices shares what they’ve learned through our conversations with essential workers. 

Episode Transcript:


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Walter Merino, Terence Abram, and Dr. Sara Velasco are all essential workers who went above and beyond to take care of their communities during the height of the pandemic. Walter Merino runs the Olé Soccer Club, where he coached young players from afar and made sure that even if they weren’t on the field, their team had their back. Terence Abram is an occupational therapist at a nursing facility in Los Angeles, who was there for hi...

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April 26, 2022 53 min

Andres Almeida is a server at a restaurant in New York, along with being a graduate student and advocate for the organization, One Fair Wage. The restaurant he works at didn’t close during the pandemic, so Andres tells us all about what it was like working during all the different stages of the past couple years, including adapting to new safety regulations, but also adapting to the attitudes of different customers. Roundtable gues...

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April 19, 2022 50 min

Please note this episode deals with discussions of sexual and domestic violence.

Solange Ramkissoon has worked as part of a sexual assault response team and answers the phone when someone calls into their hotline. Throughout the pandemic when the instructions were to stay at home to stay safe from Covid, home was often the least safe place to be for those at risk of assault within the home. Throughout the pandemic when intimate par...

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April 12, 2022 37 min

Last week we spoke with Miski Noor about their community organizing in Minneapolis. To continue that conversation this week, we'll speak with Benjamin Crump who is one of the foremost figures in our current social justice movement. He has represented families in multiple high-profile police violence cases, including the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. He has been leading the same fight in the courtr...

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April 5, 2022 28 min

Miski Noor is an organizer and writer based in Minneapolis, MN where they are Co-Director with Black Visions, a power and base-building force for Black Queer and Trans people and their families within the larger Movement for Black Lives. They were mere blocks from George Floyd when he was murdered in 2020 and can speak to what it was like protesting during a pandemic along with how transformative justice informs their vision for a ...

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March 29, 2022 32 min

Last week we spoke to Longshoreman Nicole Salima and truck driver Armando Pacheco, who are both essential workers in the global supply chain. This week we will be in conversation with Mayor Robert Garcia of Long Beach and Wall Street Journal journalist Christopher Mims, to learn more about the larger world that both Nicole and Armando participate within, how the pandemic has affected the global supply chain and how we support the f...

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March 22, 2022 27 min

It takes the work of many hands to get the products we all rely on from the factory to our homes. What to the consumer may just be the push of a button, requires the heavy lifting of factory workers, longshoreman, truck drivers and hundreds more. Nicole Salima and Armando Pacheco are two of the workers responsible for that heavy lifting. Nicole Salima is a longshoreman at the Port of Long Beach and Armando Pacheco has been a commer...

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Last week in Part One of our series about EMS responders during the pandemic, we heard from FDNY EMS Lieutenant Anthony Almojera about what it was like on the front lines fighting Covid-19 in New York City. In our roundtable this week, we reflect on Anthony’s story with grief expert and psychotherapist, Megan Devine. We’ll learn more about the impact of the pandemic on medical professionals and first responders as a whole and how w...

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March 8, 2022 26 min

First responders like EMS professionals are often on the receiving end of the calls we wish we didn’t have to make when an emergency hits. A job that not only sees emergencies but also the beginning of new lives, EMS responders support medical transitions of all kinds. Anthony Almojera has witnessed the full spectrum of these medical calls throughout his time as an EMS paramedic in New York City, a job that was greatly amplified wh...

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March 1, 2022 62 min

California’s fire seasons have become more like year-round fire years. For firefighters on the frontlines, safety is the number one priority when wildfires erupt. When these fires strike, there’s often a shortage of civilian firefighters to stop the spread. California has a long history of using incarcerated labor to supplement industries in need of additional assistance- including firefighting. For Gabriel Perez, a formerly incarc...

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February 22, 2022 73 min

Shawn Troy is a family man whose commitment to care extends not just to his relatives, but his community as well. As funeral director at Troy’s Funeral Home in Mullins, South Carolina, he cares for the deceased and their loved ones. With the pandemic, Shawn had to grapple not only with a rising number of deaths due to COVID, but also how to properly honor those losses with social distancing in place. Roundtable guests: Reporter, Pr...

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February 15, 2022 49 min

Carolina Reyes always wanted to work with children and started the Arco Iris Bilingual Children’s Center so they could get the best possible early education in both English and Spanish. When the pandemic hit, it was harder to keep the center open, but Carolina didn’t waiver and pushed forward to ensure her students could continue learning and her teachers could continue teaching. Now open again, Arco Iris is a safe haven for the yo...

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November 30, 2021 52 min

Rachel Barstow works every day to provide quality and caring education to students with disabilities and while promoting disability visibility. When the pandemic hit, Rachel’s center had to figure out how to adapt a tactile learning environment to a virtual setting. Rachel and the center were able to work in person even before vaccines thanks to the extraordinary efforts they took to keep their students and staff safe. Round table ...

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November 9, 2021 45 min

Roundtable guests Lindsay Toczylowski and Emem DuPuis Maurus elaborate on part-one of the “Casa de Arcoiris” mini-series. As immigration attorneys, Lindsay and Emem work together to support migrants on both sides of the US/Mexico border, oftentimes working directly with migrants who have stayed at Casa Arcoiris with director Cristina Franco Abundis, from part-one of the mini-series. When the pandemic hit and the border closed, Cris...

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November 2, 2021 53 min

When the US/Mexico border closed during the pandemic, migrants were forced to wait indefinitely as their asylum cases were put on hold. For LGBTQ+ migrants, finding safe, non-discriminatory housing while waiting at the border is a challenge. In 2018, Casa Arcoiris was founded in Tijuana to be a temporary, safe housing space for LGBTQ+ migrants. At Casa Arcoiris, Director Cristina Franco Abundis takes care of her community m...

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October 26, 2021 45 min

When the pandemic began, journalist Ashton Pittman began working at the Mississippi Free Press, a new nonprofit media outlet, not realizing what the future would hold. At a time when local, national, and global communities relied heavily on news outlets for an accurate portrayal of the Covid pandemic, Ashton’s work to provide fair and accurate journalism became essential. Not only reporting on Covid-19 but also on the Black Lives M...

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October 19, 2021 42 min

Ben Hess and his grocery store co-workers did not know they would be on the frontlines of a pandemic when they took their jobs. Not only did they have to worry daily about getting sick, they also had to manage customers frustrated at following safety protocols and deal with empty shelves. While Ben continued working hard, the pandemic took a big toll on his physical and mental health. Roundtable guests: Actress and activist Sophia ...

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October 12, 2021 48 min

Despite the risks, there is no place Dr. Lance Whitehair would rather be than the hospital. A family doctor for the Indian Health Service, Dr. Whitehair has been on the frontlines fighting COVID from the onset. As frightening as that fight has been, he has also borne witness to the incredible resilience of his Navajo community. On this week’s episode, Dr. Whitehair shares his passion for medicine along with the love he has for his ...

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October 5, 2021 45 min

When Liz Abunaw saw the lack of grocery stores and other basic services on the West Side of Chicago, she used her MBA background to start a community-centered grocery service that not only pays tribute to the United States’ first farmers, but also ensures healthy produce is available on the West Side. 2020 brought not only the pandemic to affect Liz’s business, but also brought a national outcry for racial justice. And in the Sprin...

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