Saving lives with clay


Bill StricklandBill Strickland’s success in saving the lives of Pittsburgh’s inner-city kids stems from a teacher who showed him how to make a bowl out of clay.

“I was flunking out of public school,” Strickland told the audience at Emporia State University’s Bonner and Bonner Diversity Lecture Series on Sept. 22, 2010.

“An art teacher named Frank Ross saved my life. I happened to be walking down a corridor one afternoon and saw him making a giant clay bowl,” Strickland said.

That introduction helped Strickland develop an unshakable message of leadership, self-worth and the ability in all of us to achieve remarkable transformation in our lives.

Strickland is president and chief executive officer of Manchester Bidwell Corp.

Graduating with honors from the University of Pittsburgh, Strickland is now a member of the institutions’ board of trustees. He also served as its commencement speaker. “I told an audience of 13,000 people, ‘Don’t give up on the poor kids. One of them may end up as your commencement speaker,’” said Strickland, the Bonner and Bonner lecture audience chuckling along with him.

Strickland’s program empowers disadvantaged young people and adults by teaching them skills in a wide range of programs, including pharmacy technicians, woodworkers and culinary arts in addition to its programs involving pottery and other artistic media.

His work has now gained the attention of two U.S. presidents. This winter, he was selected as a member of President Barack Obama's new Council for Community Solutions. Eight years ago, he served on former President George W. Bush's Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

The Bonner and Bonner Lecture Series honors Drs. Thomas and Mary Winstead Bonner, ESU’s first and second African American faculty members. Both were tenured professors with a combined 48 years of service and contributions to ESU.