To counter his chaotic surroundings, then 19-year-old Bill Strickland, a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh, started the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, a small community arts center, in the wake of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 assassination.
“The young people of my neighborhood were being destroyed by rage, drugs, violence, apathy, fear, and despair,” writes Strickland in his book, Make the Impossible Possible: One Man’s Crusade to Inspire Others to Dream Bigger and Achieve the Extraordinary (Doubleday; $23.95). The 62-year-old president and CEO of what is now the Manchester Bidwell Corp. tells of how pursuing seemingly unrelated passions paved the way for his life’s success.
More than just a community arts program, the center now includes an adult career-training center, a greenhouse, and even a Grammy award-winning record label that in part funds Manchester’s work. “The center is a collection of insights that offers a different way of thinking about the elimination of poverty,” says Strickland.
What started as a one-man operation in a small row house now covers 163,000 square feet, employs a staff of 150, and annually reaches more than 3,400 students in the Pittsburgh Public Schools system and throughout the region, including the inner-city neighborhood where it started.
This article originally appeared in the May 2009 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.