MCG’s Strickland hopes honor will fuel school project in Israel

MCG’s Strickland hopes honor will fuel school project in Israel

William E. Strickland Jr., president and CEO of the Manchester Bidwell Corporation, which runs the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild and the Bidwell Training Center, is the 2012 recipient of Rodef Shalom Congregation’s Pursuer of Peace Award.

Strickland will formally accept the award at a program, Sunday, June 10, in the main sanctuary of the synagogue. He will deliver an address at that time on the topic, “Pursuer of Peace.”

“Rodef Shalom” means pursuer of peace in Hebrew.

Strickland is the second recipient of the Pursuer of Peace Award. Bishop David A. Zubik received the inaugural award last year.

“I’m following on the heels of Bishop Zubik … and I’m very honored to have my work validated by the award,” Strickland said. “I’ve enjoyed so much support from the Jewish community for the work I do in Pittsburgh; this validates that work.”

More importantly, though, Strickland hopes the honor will draw fresh attention to his efforts to start a center in northern Israel based on the MCG-Bidwell model.

The Northern Israel Center for Arts and Technology has been in the planning stages since 2007 and would offer arts and vocational training to both Arab and Jewish youth.

A project advisory board, headed by attorney Mark Frank, is already set up, Strickland said. The next goal is to raise $150,000 to $175,000 for a feasibility study. Once that is completed, more concrete planning and arrangements can take place.

“There’s great enthusiasm for the idea,” said Strickland, who has already made two trips to Israel for the project, “and so to get the award from Rodef Shalom will bring visibility to this effort.”

Frank, a longtime friend of Strickland, said the panel is eyeing the port of city of Acre as the site for the center. He is working closely with an Arab-Israeli named Mohammed Fahili, who has founded and developed a similar cross-cultural center — the Sir Charles Clore Jewish Arab Community Center, which started in a bomb shelter and now occupies a modern facility.

According to Frank, Fahili is arranging meetings for Frank and an MCG representative with the mayor of Acre, his staff and Jewish and Arab leaders there for when they visit Israel later this month. Fahili also will be at Strickland’s award reception in Pittsburgh.

“He’s pretty well connected in this coexistence world,” Frank said of Fahili, “so he’s doing some of our advance work.”

A Pittsburgh native, Strickland grew up on the North Side during the Civil Rights era. He graduated from Oliver High School and the University of Pittsburgh.

While in college he founded the Manchester Craftman’s Guild, which brings arts education to inner city youth.  The Guild eventually morphed into the MCG Youth & Arts program. Strickland also assumed control of the Bidwell Training Center in 1972. Originally a trade school, Strickland expanded Bidwell to offer other programs such as culinary arts, horticulture and medical technology.

MCG Jazz has also attracted the leading jazz entertainers in the nation to perform live on the North Side and record at MCG’s state-of-the art sound studio.

Nationally recognized for his achievements, Strickland was named to the National Councils for the Arts and the Humanities by President Bill Clinton, the White House Council for Community Solutions by President Barack Obama, and he received the Kilby and “Coming Up Taller” awards in a 1998 White House ceremony by then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In 1996, he won the MacArthur “Genius” Award for his leadership in the arts.

According to Rodef Shalom literature, the Pursuer of Peace Award honors people who demonstrate a “passion and willingness to build a body of good works in the pursuit of peace through personal, religious, and/or professional commitments.”

(Lee Chottiner can be reached at

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