Our guest this week is William “Bill” Strickland, Jr. of Pittsburg, PA, a John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Genius Fellow, founder of Bidwell Training Center and Manchester Craftsman’s Guild, an author, and a former pilot. Bill is the quintessential social entrepreneur. Through his love of the arts and specifically pottery, Bill has been offering welfare moms, out of work steel workers and at-risk youth vocational training in the arts and culinary worlds. Bill Strickland and his work offers new hope to displaced and underemployed workers around the country and we’re proud to have him be our guest for this 200th Special Father Network Dad to Dad Podcast.
Personal website – http://www.bill-strickland.com/home.html
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Website – https://www.manchesterbidwell.org
TED Talk – https://www.ted.com/speakers/bill_strickland
Harvard Video – https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/voices/events/strickland/
Book – Make the Impossible Possible – https://www.amazon.com/Make-Impossible-Possible-Crusade-Inspire/dp/B00126MVLC/ref=sr_1_1?crid=PZ884T8PH292&keywords=Make+the+Impossible+Possible&qid=1651808547&s=audible&sprefix=make+the+impossible+possible+%2Caudible%2C414&sr=1-1
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Bill Strickland: They said, “Well, we’ve been watching it for a number of years, and we came to the conclusion that you figured out the cure for cancer of the human spirit. It’s sunlight, and it’s good food, and it’s entertainment, and it’s jazz, and it’s orchids. And that is genius, because you applied it in a place where none of that existed. And we don’t know anybody on the planet who has done that in the way that you have.”
Tom Couch: That’s our guest this week, Bill Strickland, a MacArthur Genius, an author, a former pilot and founder of the rapidly growing Bidwell Training Center, offering vocational training and lessons in the arts in the culinary world.
Bill Strickland offers new hope to displaced and underemployed workers around the country, and we’re proud to have him be our guest for this 200th Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. Say hello now to David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to the Dad to Dad Podcast, fathers mentoring fathers of children with special needs, presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support dads. To find out more, go to 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help, or would like to offer help, we’d be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com/groups and search dad to dad.
Tom Couch: Now, let’s hear this fascinating discussion between Bill Strickland and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I am thrilled to be talking today with my friend Bill Strickland of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a father of two, a community leader, author, former pilot, and the CEO of the not-for-profit, Manchester Bidwill Corporation, based in Pittsburgh. The company’s subsidiaries, the Manchester Craftsman’s Guild and Bidwell Training Center, work with disadvantaged and at-risk youth through involvement with the arts, and provides job training for adults, respectively. Bill is also the recipient of the MacArthur Genius Award and a 2011 Goi Peace Award.
For the record, Bill and I met in 1994 at the Aspen Institute, at a gathering of CEOs of large foundations and philanthropic organizations. Bill was one of the presenters and a shining example of social entrepreneur leadership, and I was there as a guest of Russ Moby, then the CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, while I was doing my Kellogg Fellowship. Bill, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Bill Strickland: My pleasure. Good to be reconnected.
David Hirsch: You and your wife Rose have been married for 21 years, and are the proud parent of two adult daughters. Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Bill Strickland: I grew up in the Manchester section of Pittsburgh, which is one of three black communities. However, in my earlier years, the neighborhood was called…now they called cultural diversity. Back then we called it the neighborhood. And there were Slovaks and Italians and German people, and we all kind of got along fine. Now it’s branded cultural diversity.
But I went to an elementary school where there were five foreign languages spoken in the neighborhood. The riots came along many years later, the white folks moved out, the black folks moved in, and the community literally fell apart. So from my young adult life, I grew up in an all black neighborhood.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well thanks for emphasizing that. Those were pretty turbulent times, the years when you were growing up.
And I’m sort of curious, what did your dad do for a living?
Bill Strickland: My father was a building tradesman, a self-employed carpenter/plumber, sort of a man for all seasons. But what he ended up doing was becoming an employee for me. Because I took over the Bidwell Training Center, which back then was a building trades program.
So my father ended up working for me, teaching plumbing and carpentry and all the skill sets that he had perfected as an independent contractor. And then he ended up in the kitchen. He was one of the first black guys hired by the Hilton Hotel chain, after the war, in Chicago. And he went back and finished his life up in the kitchen.
David Hirsch: My recollection was that he was a master sergeant in World War II. What’s the backstory there?
Bill Strickland: He was master sergeant. Black folks could not hold anything above sergeant, and they were pretty much confined to the kitchens, in the maintenance department, etc. So he had the highest rank he could hold apparently.
He was Master Sergeant chef cook on a troop ship going to Europe. And he said, “I never slept, because when you try to feed 10,000 guys on a troop ship, the minute that breakfast is over, lunch line starts. They used to bring the milk in in fire hoses into the hold of the ship, etc. And that’s basically what he did until they got to Europe.
He was in the service, served actively. And actually, he lived long enough that Truman desegregated the military, and he was offered a chance to go to officer school. Which he rejected and decided to separate from the service and come back to Pittsburgh.
David Hirsch: And was it the case when World War II was over, that it was difficult for a black guy to find a job?
Bill Strickland: Oh, yeah. And he was part of the black migration from the South that came north mainly for the steel industry. So he ended up in Gary, Indiana, working for the steel mills. He migrated somehow to Chicago, decided to go back into cooking, and the Hilton hotel chain started hiring black folks. He was one of the guys that was a short order cook for the Hilton hotel chain in downtown Chicago.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, it’s sort of a stain on our history, right? You know, the way we treated our veterans after various wars, and in particular black veterans after World War II. I probably told you that there’s a really good friend of mine who’s 95 and a half, and he was one of the original Tuskegee airmen, and all he wanted to do was fly after the war, because he had flown in battle.
And he couldn’t get a job as a pilot. You know, there were no black men that could get jobs as pilots. And then he decided, “Well, maybe I could just work on the airplanes.” He really enjoyed working on airplanes. But they wouldn’t have a black guy servicing the airplanes.
So he went to work for the Greyhound Bus Company, of all places and he worked on buses to start his career. He went on to do a lot of more meaningful and interesting things. But he is not bitter about it. He just said, “Hey, that’s the way things were. You just have to make the most of the situation and move forward.” He had a very positive outlook on things, and he was a proud veteran.
Bill Strickland: But had it not been for those guys, I never would’ve gotten hired by an airline. They set the stage for my eventual employment by a major airline. Without them and the Tuskegee men and their sacrifices, it would’ve not happened for me. Because when I hired on with Braniff, I was one of 52,000 black airline pilots in the world—not the United States, the whole planet.
David Hirsch: That’s pretty impressive. So a couple more questions about your dad. I’m sort of curious to know, how would you characterize your relationship with him?
Bill Strickland: My relationship with my father was mixed, because he unfortunately got caught up in the worst aspects of the effects of racism. It destroyed his sense of pride and confidence in himself. And he got into a lot of really negative behavior, largely directed toward trying to deal with his own anger and disappointment in life.
And he carved himself a difficult path, and basically I ended up switching roles with my father. He became the son and I became the dad. And so I had the privilege of hiring my own father to work for me in the center that I took over called Bidwell. But he had a very tough road of it, compounded by the fact he was a skilled tradesman but couldn’t get a job working for a union, because they weren’t hiring black folks. So, in addition to the racism that he experienced in the deep South—because he came from Mississippi—it was compounded by this virulent racism that he also experienced as a very highly qualified professional tradesman.
But the Tuskegee story applied to my father. He had the same sense of frustration and disappointment, that here’s a qualified guy, served his country honorably, and could not get a job doing the craft he was trained for. And that had very deleterious effects on his self-image. And I fortunately was in his life, and fortunately he was in my life, because he brought me into this world, and I was able to return the favor by extending a hand to him.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing. When you think about your dad, was there an important lesson or takeaway, beyond what you’ve already described, that comes to mind?
Bill Strickland: Well, yeah, I think so. I think the quality is forgiveness, that you have to somehow forgive the circumstances in which you find yourself mired. And my dad was one of those African American men who started off in a very disappointing way, given the circumstances and the hand that he was dealt. And he could have become very embittered by the circumstances that he found himself in. But to his credit, and to my credit, my family’s credit, he elected to take the high road, not the low road, and we all benefited from that.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing. Really important message about the importance of forgiveness. I mean, in all aspects of life, right? No matter what the circumstances are, you carry that weight or that burden around with you, and you think that forgiveness is something you’re doing for somebody else’s benefit, and then with the benefit of hindsight, you realize you’re doing it for yourself. You don’t want to be weighed down by that.
So thank you for the point. I’m sort of curious to know about your grandfathers—what, if any, influence they played, starting with your dad’s dad and then your mom’s dad.
Bill Strickland: I never met my grandfather. He died in Mississippi. He was so estranged from his own father, who rejected him. His father was a tradesman in Mississippi. But my dad wanted very much to go to Tuskegee, but his father believed that black people did not deserve a college education, so he refused to allow my father to attend Tuskegee, and my father became very bitter at the way in which he was treated by his grandfather.
And so he elected to sever his relationship with his own dad. So I never met my grandfather. I only know about him through the memories that my father shared with me about his dad.
David Hirsch: Yeah, it sounds like a pretty thorny situation on your dad’s side. How about on your mom’s side?
Bill Strickland: A much brighter story. My mother had three sisters and lots of aunts, and I had a wonderful grandmother who really nurtured us, nurtured my mom, nurtured all of her siblings, etc. So it was a very positive experience in our family, matriarchal, which is not uncommon for African American families, as you probably know better than most. And so on the matriarchal side, we were very lucky to have very nurturing women. It provided that nurturing quality for me as well, including my own mom.
David Hirsch: Excellent. Well thanks for sharing. So I’m thinking about other father influencers, other men that had a positive impact on your life, and I’m wondering who comes to mind.
Bill Strickland: Well, Frank Ross, who was my art teacher at Oliver High School, and Fred Rogers. Mr. Rogers was one of my mentors as I was really getting into the arts in the sixties. I got invited to appear on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, and I looked like a Black Panther. I had hair that was two feet off my head, and I just looked like a wild man. But Fred was not intimidated by my appearance. And he was really quite intrigued with my view on the arts, so I ended up getting an invite to Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.
I have a friend, you may remember him, who’s at the Neighborhood Art Center. That’s where Bob Trough has his studio too. Anyway, I’d like you to see my friend Bill Strickland and his work with clay. I asked him if I could bring you with me today. So I think we should go now, all right? I’ll be back, fish, and I’ll clean up the kitchen when I get back to the Neighborhood Art Center.
“Hey, Bill, took you up on your offer.” “Fred, nice to see you.” “Thank you. I’d like you to know my television neighbor.” “Hello.” “This is my old friend, Bill Strickland.” “Nice to see you too.” “What are you doing here, Bill?” “What I’m doing is getting prepared to make a pot, by wedging or creating the clay.”
We went back and looked at the tape, and Mr. Rogers says, “Well, someday I have to come visit the Center in the neighborhood.” Well, that’s the center that I now run in Pittsburgh, and Fred predicted that someday I would build the center in the neighborhood, which he came and visited. And the famous second show was when I taught Mr. Rogers how to make pottery in the neighborhood.
David Hirsch: [Laughs] Yeah. Well, let’s go back to Frank Ross, the art teacher, because at least from my recollection of the story, that’s where the seeds were planted for all the things that we’re talking about here.
Bill Strickland: Actually, David, they were really planted by my mother, who created the environment that, when I met Mr. Ross, because of my mother being willing to set a plate for anybody that came to the house, I was not intimidated by the fact that my pottery teacher at Oliver high school is a white guy, because my mother didn’t care. She said, if the man is willing to help you, and he’s willing to help my son, we consider him a member of our family, regardless of what color he is.
And that was the basic fundamental grounding of my philosophy of life and of education and parenting. And so it really set the stage for all of my work with Fred Rogers and Fred Rogers in the Neighborhood.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thank you for emphasizing the point that your mom was the big influence, but maybe we would give Frank Ross the credit for helping that seed germinate in the way that it has. And my understanding was that it was because of this interest that he curated in you through his art class that your passion for pottery began.
Bill Strickland: Yeah. And it was more of a magical experience than it was pottery. Because what Mr. Ross allowed me to do was to see, it’s almost as if Mr. Stovall is a part of this conversation, because he saw with his heart, and Mr. Ross saw with his heart, and I learned to see with my heart. And so I think that joined us at the hip philosophically in some very interesting ways. Which will be explored in further conversations in the future, I suspect?
David Hirsch: Yes. You went to the University of Pittsburgh, you took a degree in history, and from what I recall, you wanted to be a diplomat. But that wasn’t the path you pursued.
Bill Strickland: No. I quickly found out that diplomats are people who have lots of money and can buy their position, because their dad’s a banker or something, and they just buy the gig. I wanted to be an ambassador, and they said, “Well, you start as a GS 12, licking stamps in the basement of the State Department. That’s how you get to be a world class statesman. So I didn’t want to work at the post office as a GS 12, which paid about $12,000 a year. So that ended that aspiration.
But I studied diplomatic history anyway, and decided that I’d build a training center based on my education at the University of Pittsburgh, so it all kind of worked out well.
David Hirsch: When was it that you started the Manchester Craftsman’s Guild, and how did that get blended with the Bidwell Training Center?
Bill Strickland: Well, I inherited Bidwell. It was started in the sixties during the riots. Manchester was started in 1968. Bidwell was started in ‘68. Bidwell almost went out of business in the seventies. Manchester did go out of business in the early seventies, and so I rebuilt Bidwell and reconstituted Manchester, and that’s the version of the story that turned out to be quite prophetic.
David Hirsch: So for our listeners’ benefit, what is the Manchester Craftsman’s Guild, and separately, what is the Bidwell Training Center?
Bill Strickland: Bidwell Training Center is a vocational school for people who have lost their way educationally. We provide industry standard curriculum training in education, customized to companies that we work with—Fortune 100, Fortune 500 companies.
We have programs in culinary arts, medical technology, information technology, etc. We have a horticultural program where we train people to raise orchids, hydrangeas, and poinsettias as a business, a social enterprise, and that’s worked out pretty good. And we sell a lot of the flowers in high-end flower stores. We generate revenue, and that helps to sustain the floral program that we created 15 years ago.
David Hirsch: And is that part of the Bidwell Training Center that you’re describing?
Bill Strickland: Yeah, it is an affiliate. It’s called Harbor Gardens, and it’s a not-for-profit affiliate of the Manchester Bidwell Corporation.
David Hirsch: So just going back a step, because when I first was introduced to the presentation you made, it was a slide presentation. Just to timestamp, the mid-1990s. You were taking your slide deck around and making that presentation, which was very profound, back in the mid nineties. And what I remembered is you saying that you take auto workers, steel workers and welfare moms, and you help them become job ready, so they can be independent and self-sustaining?
Bill Strickland: Correct.
David Hirsch: And how have things changed though from those early days when you were attracting welfare moms and auto and steel workers?
Bill Strickland: Well, the economic environment has changed dramatically, and the social environment has changed dramatically, because Bidwell and Manchester were born during the riots. There was social insurrection going on when our centers were born. And so the environment totally changed, and I can’t say for the better, but we were born out of violence and insurrection in the streets.
And so the big change nowadays is working with Fortune 100, Fortune 500 companies in industries that have a future: med tech, chem tech, etc. So we’ve gotten much more sophisticated. Back then we were exclusively building trades. Even though the unions were not taking black people into the unions, we were teaching it anyway and putting people in non-union work. We wanted to teach the skills even if the unions were not willing to hire black folks.
And that worked out pretty good. But it gave us a platform to continue to build our center off of and to establish what has now become one of the top vocational training programs, at least in Pennsylvania, and maybe in the United States of America, for the constituency that we work with.
David Hirsch: Yeah, it’s fabulous. And the Manchester Craftsman’s Guild, I don’t remember the exact beginning of it, but I remember some of the highlights. The chef in residence program, the theater, the auditorium that you built.
I’d like to talk about each of those separately, but that’s where they began. Those were some of the highlights. You did mention earlier that the Manchester Craftsman’s Guild sort of stumbled or struggled early on, and what was it that helped you put that organization back on the right path?
Bill Strickland: Bulldog determination. I make this stuff look easy, but it ain’t easy, and you have to decide you’re gonna be part of the solution, not part of the problem. And so I was determined that I was gonna build an art training center in the middle of a black neighborhood, and I was not gonna be run out of my own neighborhood, much less out of my own town. So we were not in the business of taking prisoners. We were in the business of training people to have lives. Still are.
David Hirsch: So did it begin with programs like the pottery and other arts, like photography?
Bill Strickland: Yes, correct. And that’s where we stayed for the first 15 years of our life, basically, until Manchester Bidwell became a joint venture of the two organizations. We merged them together, multiple divisions, but a unified purpose.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, what I do remember is that you created some exhibitions where the artists could see their work on display, and then you invited the affluent parts of Pittsburgh to come in and have black tie affairs. And the artwork would be the backdrop for the event. You were the venue for these high end affairs. And I’m wondering, how did things transpire when you started holding these events there?
Bill Strickland: They went fine. We built the center, opened it up black tie, and Dizzy Gillespie showed up to play, and we never looked back. The people who showed up for the concerts were so blown away by the center. In fact, the artists who played the center were so blown away by the center that we instantaneously created a national reputation. And it was like a rocket shot in the night, and we really never looked back.
Disney showed up. Herbie Hancock showed up. Tito Puente showed up, and the Basie band showed up, and Shirley Horn and Betty Carter and the rest of ’em, and five Grammys later, we have the largest collection of Grammys for a small record company in the world, in the training center that we spawned. So it was literally kind of an overnight success.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, the part of the story that I remember, starting with Dizzy Gillespie, once you built that with the recording studio, is that he agreed to give you the recording rights, which he didn’t have to do.
Bill Strickland: Well, what Dizzy’s investment of his music in our center—that’s like being anointed. So other artists were much more sympathetic because the deal was, as he said, the money, if you choose to sell this music, has got to come support this center. And so we made it clear to the artists we were not there to plagiarize their music. We were there to use it as an opportunity to generate revenue, to sustain an education program for people who would eventually, hopefully, someday themselves become musicians. So with that as the caveat, that became a very popular thing for people and other musicians to do.
David Hirsch: So you had the performers come into the Manchester Craftsman’s, and you’d have the artwork on display in the lobby of your center, and you were having the events catered, and you had this epiphany that maybe you shouldn’t be paying out all this money to have the events catered. And what did that lead to?
Bill Strickland: Well, we decided to build our own culinary program. So John Heinz, the heir to the Heinz Ketchup fortune, came to visit. And he said, “You ought to go into the food training business, and if you elect to do so, I’ll give you a million dollars. What’s your answer?” I said, “Well, apparently we’re going to the food training business.” And John did give us a million bucks, and we borrowed the curriculum from a very famous culinary school, and we never looked back. And so we created a million dollar, actually more than that, gourmet kitchen facility that basically outlasted John Heinz.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, what I remember was that it was a chef in residence program, and that was a hugely successful program of yours.
Bill Strickland: It still is. 90% of our students get jobs within six months of graduation. And it’s major, it’s Sodexo, it’s Marriott. It’s who’s who in the food industry who have now basically adopted our strategy, and in many cases hired our students.
David Hirsch: So in addition to teaching people how to cook, prepare food, all the aspects that go behind the creation of music in the recording studios, teaching individuals how to do pottery and photography and these different forms of art, were there any other aspects of your training programs that have provided people with job opportunities?
Bill Strickland: Well, we have culinary arts. We have a medical technology group. We train medical coders, electronical medical records. And since this, I have my own research institute now, David. It’s called the Strickland Center for Translational Medicine. What that is, is it’s in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh. We’re harvesting data on inner city communities, and we’ve created a profession in information technology.
And the prototype is Manchester Bidwell and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and it’s just been funded by HHS across the country. So that is a new adventure for us. We’re also working in the robotic car space. Argo is based in Pittsburgh, and they’re working in the intelligent car space, and we’re working with trying to train the next generation of service technicians for the cars.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Which brings to mind the neighborhood that you’re in back in the late sixties, early seventies. The neighborhood that you’re located in was pretty modest, from what I remember.
Bill Strickland: It was poor, not modest.
David Hirsch: And how has that been transformed over the years as a result of the Bidwill Training Center, Manchester Craftsman’s Guild presence?
Bill Strickland: Well, ironically, Bidwell itself, back in the sixties during the riots, the white establishment decided to build a highway right in the middle of the neighborhood. So they cut the neighborhood in half, so the white folks could transport themselves from downtown to the suburbs and not have to transverse a black neighborhood.
And what it did was it killed the neighborhood. So our center was on one side of the highway, and the decimated neighborhood was on the other side of the highway. So it had a catastrophic effect on the people who lived in that neighborhood.
David Hirsch: So I’m assuming the land values went way down.
Bill Strickland: Absolutely. Zero.
David Hirsch: And did that create the opportunity to get the property that you actually built on then, or not?
Bill Strickland: Yeah. Well, that other half of the property was bought by some white business guy, and we guilt tripped him into donating it to us. He didn’t give it away, but he took the tax benefit and took the credit for being more charitable than he probably was. But we ended up with the land, and that gave us the building, and that set the stage for this conversation, obviously.
David Hirsch: And how is the neighborhood of the direct vicinity around the Bidwell Training Center, Manchester Craftsman’s Guild built up over the years?
Bill Strickland: Well, it’s now become…we have traffic jams in front of the building, because all these other people—now that we sort of conquered the neighborhood—saw that we had built this multi-million dollar training center, and we were having jazz concerts, and a lot of high net worth people were coming to the jazz concerts.
So they said, “Maybe this neighborhood is not so bad after all.” So what ended up happening is a lot of businesses started moving into the neighborhood, and we actually built up that neighborhood to be a very high value section of Pittsburgh in which people are now fighting for land.
And if I had been more prophetic, I would’ve taken out options on all the dirt around our building before I built all this stuff, ‘cause I’m now bidding against myself.
David Hirsch: Yeah. What are some of the businesses that are in the neighborhood there?
Bill Strickland: Well, we have a major construction company, Mascaro Construction. Lindon Meyer is a record storage facility. The Bicycle Museum is there and is thriving. Record archives for historical records moved in. The Army Corps of Engineers has a facility there. So it’s become a mecca.
Plus the healthcare people moved in and built a comparable healthcare facility right next to our training center, so we have a big healthcare facility over there as well. They moved a major division over there in our neighborhood. So I’ve got healthcare, I’ve got training, I’ve got a building industry there, records management facilities there, etc., and it’s become very hot property.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well it’s just an amazing story. And I’m wondering, what has been your experience with trying to replicate your program? The one that we’re talking about is in Pittsburgh, and I’m wondering, how many different locations have you been able to create similar type of experiences in different cities?
Bill Strickland: Ten are open now, including Israel, and the others are in the United States. One’s in Chicago, the Chicago Center for and Technology over in Lawndale, and we have nine others.
September 13th, I’m cutting the ribbon in Erie, Pennsylvania. We have one open in Sharon, Pennsylvania. We have one open in Broadway, Pennsylvania. We signed a deal with the University of Pittsburgh to open up an advanced manufacturing facility in Titusville, Pennsylvania. We’re building one in Westmoreland County in Pennsylvania, and we’re going to Wellsburg.
So in two years, Manchester Bidwell Corporation will have seven affiliates in Pennsylvania, and we’re hoping to use that as the template for the other 49 states.
David Hirsch: I know it’s not as easy as just planting a seed and watering it in a big city like Chicago. There’s some infrastructure already in place, right? You’re not starting from ground zero or starting with a blank slate, so you need to get different stakeholders to buy in. And I’m wondering if there’s anything that you might be able to share with our listeners to the extent that one or more of them might be interested in this concept or this model.
Bill Strickland: Call me up. It’s very easy, and if you don’t remember me, remember Dizzy Gillespie and google Dizzy Gillespie. That will take you to Manchester Craftsman’s Guild Jazz. And that eventually takes you to me. So even if you forget this conversation, think Dizzy Gillespie and think jazz, and that will get you connected to Bill Strickland.
David Hirsch: Yeah, well, it’s simply genius. Speaking of which, I’m wondering if you can recount the backstory on being the recipient of a MacArthur Genius Award.
Bill Strickland: Yeah. They called me up and said, “You won this award.” I said, “Well that’s cool. How’d I win the award?” They said, “We’ve been watching you for a number of years, because you can’t apply for the designation. We have people who spy on people like you, and we came to the conclusion that you figured out the cure for cancer of the human spirit. It’s sunlight and it’s good food. And it’s entertainment, and it’s jazz, and it’s orchids.
“And that is genius, because you applied it in a place where none of that existed. And we don’t know anybody on the planet who has done that in the way that you have. And we believe that that is genius. And so there is something called the MacArthur Genius Award, and you’re gonna be one of the recipients.”
I said, “Well, I’m glad you finally caught up. I was telling people I was a genius when I was three, but you finally caught up to where I’ve been for a long time.”
David Hirsch: Yeah, it’s a beautiful story. Some of our listeners might be familiar with the John D and Catherine team, MacArthur Foundation here in Chicago, and they’ve been giving these genius awards to, I don’t know, two or three dozen individuals a year for decades and decades. And there’s a monetary aspect. It’s not just anointing you as a genius. What was the monetary award?
Bill Strickland: Back then it was $500,000, I don’t know, something like that. And I set up a foundation, because the newspaper called up and said, “What are you going to do with the money?” I said, “I’m going to educate my kids.” And they said, “Not one of the awardees ever said that.”
And it turns out to be true. I used the money to educate both my daughters, one of whom is going to medical school next year, and the other became the chief of staff for the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. Well, education is one of the most important things that we can do for young people, whether they be our own or others, because we’re investing in our future by doing that. So is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Bill Strickland: Well, if it’s appropriate, I would like to thank you, David, for being my friend, and more importantly for bringing into my consciousness the importance being a good dad.
That is something in which you have underlined through your videos, and Mr. Stovall’s video, my video, and you should be recognized by your friends for the extraordinary work that you have done unsolicited. It’s the kind of thing that you are compelled by a force that a number of us share, which is to be known by the works that you do, and it doesn’t require fanfare or accolades. You do it because it’s the right thing to do. So to be associated with people like you, for me, is itself a great reward, believe me.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, Bill, thank you for your generous words. Really does mean a lot. And at some level we’re members of the Mutual Admiration Society. So, thanks again. If somebody wants to learn more about Manchester Craftsman’s Guild, the Bidwell Training Center, or contact you, what’s the best way to do that?
Bill Strickland: Google Bill Strickland, now that I’ve got a name that people recognize, and that’ll take you to the website, and that will eventually take you to me. And I do answer as many of the emails as I can. In fact, that’s how we build centers is through these conversations and including the one I’m having with you, David.
David Hirsch: Yeah, we’ll be sure to include all that in the show notes so it’ll make it as easy as possible for somebody who’s listening to reach out to you. Bill, thank you for your time and many insights. As a reminder, Bill is just one of the individuals who’s part of the Special Fathers Network, a mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs.
If you’d like to be a mentor father, or are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation to your own, please go to 21stcenturydads.org. Thank you for listening to the latest episode of the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as I did.
As you probably know, the 21st Century Dads Foundation is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization, which means we need your help to keep our content free to all concerned. Would you please consider making a tax acceptable contribution? I would really appreciate your support
Bill, thanks again.
Bill Strickland: Thank you, David. Take care. Bye-bye.
Tom Couch: And thank you for listening to the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children match up with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support other dads. To find out more, go to 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help, or would like to offer help, we would be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com/groups and search dad to dad. Lastly, we’re always looking to share interesting stories. If you’d like to share your story, or know of a compelling story, please send an email to email@example.com.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast was produced by me, Tom Couch. Thanks again to Horizon Therapeutics, who believe that science and compassion must work together to transform lives. That’s why they work tirelessly to research, develop, and bring forward medicines for people living with rare and rheumatic diseases. Discover more about Horizon Therapeutics at horizontherapeutics.com.