"Success is the point where your most authentic talents, passion, values, and experiences intersect with the chance to contribute to some greater good." --Bill Strickland According to MacArthur Fellowship "genius" award winner Bill Strickland, a successful life is not something you simply pursue, it is something that you create, moment by moment. It is a realization Strickland first came to when, as a poor kid growing up in a rough neighborhood of Pittsburgh, he encountered a high school ceramics teacher who took him under his wing and went on to transform his life. Over the past thirty years, Bill Strickland has been transforming the lives of thousands of people through the creation of Manchester Bidwell, a jobs training center and community arts program. Working with corporations, community leaders, and schools, he and his staff strive to give disadvantaged kids and adults the opportunities and tools they need to envision and built a better, brighter future. Strickland believes that every one of us has the potential for remarkable achievement. Every one of us can accomplish the impossible in our lives if given the right inspiration and motivation to do so. We all make ourselves "poor" in one way or another when we accept that we are not smart enough, experienced enough, or talented enough to accomplish something. Bill Strickland works with the least advantaged among us, and if he can help them achieve the impossible in their lives, think what each of us can do. Among Bill Strickland's beliefs: People are born into this world as assets, not liabilities.It's all in the way we treat people (and ourselves) that determines a person's outcome The sand in the hourglass flows only one way.Stop going through the motions of living--savor each and every day. Life is here and now, not something waiting for you in the future. You don't have to travel far to change the life you're living.Bill grew up in the Pittsburgh ghetto, four blocks from where he came to build one of the foremost job training centers in the world. He now speaks before CEOs and political leaders, church congregations and civic leaders. You only need to change your thinking to remake your world. Through lessons from his own life experiences, and those of countless others who have overcome their circumstances and turned their lives around,Make the Impossible Possibleshows how all of us can build on our passions and strengths, dream bigger and set the bar higher, achieve meaningful success and help mentor and inspire the lives of others.
BILL STRICKLAND is CEO of Manchester Bidwell, a jobs training center and community arts program. At Manchester Craftsmen Guild, he offers programs in ceramics, photography, and painting to hundreds of kids a year, ninety percent of whom get high school diplomas and enroll in college. And at the Bidwell Training Center, adults receive training in professional careers such as the culinary arts, pharmacology, and horticultural technology, through partnerships with major corporations in the area. The center includes a 350-seat jazz auditorium, a 40,000-square-foot greenhouse covering half a city block, a state-of-the-art chemistry lab, a full-scale ceramics department, and a culinary institute. As a result of his work, Strickland has received a MacArthur Fellowship “genius” grant, has lectured at Harvard Graduate School of Education, has served on the board of the National Endowment for the Arts, and he and Manchester Bidwell have been the subject of three Harvard Business School case studies. He lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
From the Ghetto to Harvard Business School
It was a winter morning in 1996 and I was standing center stage in the pit of a jam-packed, wood-paneled lecture hall at Harvard University. Rows of wooden seats loomed above me in curving tiers. In those seats, with their expectant gazes bearing down on me, sat about one hundred razor-sharp young men and women–graduate students at the Harvard Business School–waiting to see what I had to offer. As a result of my work with inner-city kids and adults at the Manchester Bidwell Center in Pittsburgh, I had been asked to serve as an HBS case study, to share a little hard-earned business savvy from the other side of the tracks.
As Professor Jim Heskett introduced me to his class, I positioned my beat-up old slide projector on a tabletop, then opened a battered cardboard box, held together with duct tape at the corners, and lifted out a loaded carousel of slides. The students looked me over. In recent weeks, such other speakers as Disney honcho Michael Eisner and Southwest Airlines chief Herb Kelleher had stood where I was standing to share their business philosophies and reveal their secrets of success. Now it was my turn in the spotlight. I knew the kids weren’t sure what to expect from me. To tell the truth, I wasn’t so sure that they could get what I had to offer. After all, I don’t run an airline or an entertainment empire. If you wanted to be technical about it, you could say I’m not a businessman at all. As the founder and CEO of Manchester Bidwell, a community arts-education and jobtraining center in Pittsburgh, my mission is to turn people’s lives around. We do that by offering them two distinct educational programs under the same roof. The first program, which we call the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, offers rigorous after-school courses in the arts that light a creative fire in at-risk kids and inspire them to stay in school. Classes at the Craftsmen’s Guild are taught by a staff of established artists and skilled instructors, and the curriculum is designed to rival courses taught at the best private schools and academies. Our center also houses the Bidwell Training Center, which provides state-of-the-art job-training programs intended to give poor and otherwise disadvantaged adults the skills and direction they need to land meaningful, good-paying jobs that provide the foundation for a much brighter future. Our students include welfare mothers, recovering addicts, ex-convicts, laid-off manufacturing workers, and others who have had hope or even dignity snatched away by the difficult circumstances of their lives. Our younger students at the Craftsmen’s Guild face similar struggles. Many of them are on a fast track to failure when they come to us, flunking courses, skipping school, on the verge of dropping out or being suspended. Some of them swagger in, angry, defiant, bristling with hostile attitude. Others hide behind a prickly shell of apathy and withdrawal.
When we started out some twenty years ago, most of our students were African-Americans from the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Today, almost half our student body is made up of disadvantaged white folks.We greet them all with the same basic recipe for success: high standards, stiff challenges, a chance to develop unexplored talents, and a message that many of them haven’t heard before–that no matter how difficult the circumstances of their lives may be, no matter how many bad assumptions they’ve made about their chances in life, no matter how well they’ve been taught to rein in their dreams and narrow their aspirations, they have the right, and the potential, to expect to live rich and satisfying lives. It takes some time for them to adjust to that message and trust our faith in their potential, but once they do, the transformation is remarkable, and our success rates, compiled over more tha
Excerpted from Make the Impossible Possible: One Man's Crusade to Inspire Others to Dream Bigger and Achieve the Extraordinary by Vince Rause, Bill Strickland
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