Bill Strickland and Mark Frank have been friends for over 40 years. They’re so close, in fact, they’re practically brothers.
“Mark’s dad kind of adopted me as one of his kids,” said Strickland, president and CEO of the Manchester Bidwell Corporation. “[He] cut out articles about me over the course of my professional career, and at some point in that process, let me know how deeply proud he was of my work with his son.”
The Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee honored Frank, as well as Judges Justin and Livingstone Johnson, with the inaugural Caplan-Lieber Bridge Builders Awards during a reception last Tuesday at Pittsburgh’s O’Reilly Theater.
Held before the curtain lifted on Tuesday evening’s performance of “Thurgood,” a one-man, biographical play about Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the awards ceremony celebrated the career contributions the three men have made to advancing causes of human and civil rights, both in Pittsburgh and abroad.
Strickland presented the award to Frank, which Frank found more than fitting. An attorney with the firm of Campbell & Levine, Frank began his career working with Strickland at the Manchester Bidwell Corporation, which seeks to construct educational environments that help maximize individuals’ talents.
“To the extent that I know anything about bridge building, I learned it at Manchester Bidwell,” Frank said, choking back tears. “I learned at Manchester Bidwell, the real meaning of tikkun olam, even though I didn’t know the words at the time.”
Frank is working on replicating the Manchester Bidwell model in Israel. Scheduled to open in 2014, the Northern Israel Center for Arts and Technology is designed to bring Arabs and Jews together under the umbrella of teaching life skills and promoting economic development in the diverse community of Akko.
“Mark has spent tens of thousands of hours of his personal time trying to create a space in Israel for Israeli Arabs and Jews to learn and work and play together,” said Deborah Fidel, the PAJC’s executive director.
Honored along with Frank were Judge Justin M. Johnson and his brother Judge Livingstone Johnson. Justin, who in 1969 became the first African-American member of the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners, served on the Superior Court of Pennsylvania from 1980 until his retirement in 2007.
Presenting Justin Johnson with the award, attorney and lifelong civil rights advocate Wendell Freeland, said that, “Justin has been an ambassador from the black community to the white community. He has bridged the gaps between blacks and whites. And in bridging the gaps, he has made them much smaller.”
“It’s not what we give, but what we share. It’s not so much what I have done, but what it was that permitted me to do what I have done,” Justin Johnson said, acknowledging the numerous people whom he counted among his mentors and influences. “Being a bridge builder is little more than trying to do what you have received from others.”
Before practicing law, Livingstone Johnson flew combat missions for the Air Force in the Korean War. He served as assistant solicitor for Allegheny County, and from 1973 until his retirement in 2007, on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. He was also the first African-American to sit on the Allegheny County Bar Association Board of Governors.
Presenting the award to Livingstone Johnson, a visibly moved Common Pleas Judge Dwayne Woodruff called him “an authentic hero.”
“Both of them have spent their entire lives bringing all different kinds of people together through their work in civil rights, on the bench and in the nonprofit world,” Fidel said of the Johnsons. “We wanted to hold them up as examples of people worthy of our admiration and thanks.”
(Matthew Wein can be reached at email@example.com.)