Bill Strickland: Anti-Poverty Warrior Sets His Sights On Tampa Bay

Bill Strickland of Pittsburgh looks at the Tampa Bay region's most poverty-stricken neighborhoods and sees nothing but opportunity.

The author of "Make The Impossible Possible,'' a MacArthur Foundation "genius'' scholar who has served as an urban adviser to President Obama and both Presidents Bush, says he envisions a place in Tampa Bay where children from the lowest-income families have equal access to the best services education and community have to offer.

Creating that place is the catalyst needed to lift people out of poverty and homelessness and into a more productive society that welcomes all-comers, native and immigrant alike.

That was the challenge Strickland not-so-subtly issued to about 200 leading foundations, board members, philanthropists and community leaders gathered for the annual meeting of the Florida Philanthropic Network in Orlando on Feb. 1-3.

Strickland is traveling around America -- indeed, around the globe -- practicing what he preaches by helping to create projects that replicate the learning-friendly environment he nurtured over the last 30 years in one of Pittsburgh's most troubled neighborhoods.

Replication projects now thrive in Cincinnati, San Francisco, Grand Rapids and Cleveland. Plans are underway to open in New Haven, Austin, Boston and Brockway, PA. Cities under consideration include Chicago, Richmond and Tampa Bay. 

Why Tampa-St. Pete?

The Tampa Bay region's cities, like cities everywhere, have too many under-served neighborhoods and challenged schools. High dropout rates and low test scores, especially among children of color, are unacceptable in ways that create generations of poverty.

It's just such a sometimes seemingly hopeless environment that attracts Strickland and his investors. He’s the chief executive officer for the Manchester Bidwell Corporation, a Pittsburgh nonprofit with a $12 million operating budget that has grown to support a library, a digital imaging lab, a ceramics studio, a concert hall, a greenhouse, a dining room and a state-of-the-art kitchen where gourmet cooks are trained. 

His rags-to-riches story is well-documented and has been told worldwide as an antidote to poverty: Read stories in Miller-McCune, Pop City Media (sister publication to 83 Degrees Media) and others found in Google searches.

The common theme? Strickland's own boyhood rescue (through learning pottery that piqued his interest in the arts) from a tough neighborhood initially motivated him to try to help children in similar circumstances. Success over more than 30 years gives him the reputation and credibility to step into communities to create schools and community centers that make a big difference in the lives of children, improving school attendance and graduation rates while lessening violence and lowering crime rates. 

The idea is to create a place where every child, regardless of other circumstances, can not only survive but thrive.

"I believe it won't be too long before someone in Tampa or St. Petersburg will step up to replicate what we are doing,'' Strickland says after speaking to FPN members. "I think today was a big push in that direction.''

Diane Egner is publisher and managing editor of 83 Degrees Media. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Diane Egner.

Diane Egner is the publisher and managing editor at 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida. 
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