Strickland to Bring Message of Hope to Memphis

By Aisling Maki

Bill Strickland is widely admired for the many hats he wears; CEO, social entrepreneur, writer, speaker and visionary.

But more than anything, Strickland, featured in the acclaimed education documentary “Waiting for Superman,” is a firm believer in second chances – a value he shares with HopeWorks Inc., a faith-based nonprofit dedicated to helping Memphians affected by crime, poverty and irresponsibility break the cycle and transform their lives.

He will serve as keynote speaker at the organization’s March 5 breakfast, A Morning of Hope with Bill Strickland, which will start at 8:30 a.m. at Woodland Hills Event Center, 10000 Woodland Hills Drive.

HopeWorks executive director Ron Wade was introduced to Strickland in November of 2009 when Strickland spoke at the Lipscomb & Pitts Breakfast Club, a monthly gathering of Memphis area business and community leaders.

Wade was deeply inspired by Strickland’s story of educational and cultural transformation in the inner-city Pittsburgh neighborhood of Manchester.

Lipscomb & Pitts Breakfast Club director Jeremy Park said Strickland was asked to speak in Memphis “because of the way he’s taking mentorships, giving back and working with a cross-section of other nonprofits. He’s raised the bar exponentially.”

Strickland grew up in a rough Pittsburgh neighborhood where the mentorship of a high school art teacher inspired him to create the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, an after-school program operated in a donated row-house.

Strickland is president and CEO of the nonprofit Manchester Bidwell Corp. and its subsidiaries – The Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild and Bidwell Training Center.

The organizations’ youth arts and music programs and career education programs, implemented in an environment that fosters innovation, creativity, responsibility and integrity, have become national models.

“The whole community there has really become supportive and now it’s a matter of pride where they don’t lock the door at night,” Park said. “You have a water fountain where people congregate and you have a safe environment that’s becoming a gem for that city. … We can have that here in Memphis. It’s encouraging nonprofits, businesses, children and families, everyone to work together and combine resources in a very magnificent way.”

Strickland, who’s working to replicate the Manchester Bidwell model throughout the country, authored a book called “Make the Impossible Possible: One Man’s Crusade to Inspire Others to Dream Bigger and Achieve the Extraordinary.”

He’s been honored with numerous awards, including the MacArthur “Genius” Award, for his contributions to the arts and the community.

Quincy Jones has called Strickland, “One of the most innovative social enterprise thinkers I have ever met,” and Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton said The Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild is a “testament to the power of the arts to transform children’s lives.”

And most recently, worldwide film audiences were introduced to Strickland through “Waiting for Superman,” which examines the failures of the American education system, the children affected, and the education reformers working to turn the tide toward greater success.

“If this country has a future, it’s because of the ability to form visions and partnerships,” Strickland said on his website. “I believe that we can change the United States of America in my lifetime. We’ve got to change the way this country sees itself.”

Like Strickland, Wade is a firm believer in transformation through collaboration; HopeWorks encourages local businesses to participate in providing chronically unemployed individuals the chance to do work that matters to them.

“We partner with different businesses, and when our students identify the career they feel like they’d enjoy doing, they can do an internship,” Wade said. “Students will shadow the business, and it provides employers with a way to give back to the community. ... The idea is that if you do something you enjoy then chances are less likely that you’ll leave for whatever reason.”

HopeWorks strives to help its students become productive members of society through a holistic approach that includes daily classes, meals, educational training, career development, spiritual counseling and mentorship.

“We help people develop individual worth, and most of the time our students come to us because they’ve failed in some area – with the law, education-wise, or sometimes they just don’t have a family or church support structure that has provided that net,” Wade said. “We provide all of that.”

Clients must meet a list of criteria that includes sobriety, meeting attendance goals, the ability to read at a sixth-grade level, and full class participation.

“I’m trying to get as many business people as possible to the Morning of Hope breakfast so they can see what has been done in other cities and can be done in ours to help reduce crime,” Wade said. “The recidivism rate is incredibly high, and yet at HopeWorks, ours is, comparatively speaking, incredibly low. This is something people can get behind to help others and help our city.”

Tickets to the breakfast are $50 each and can be purchased at