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Pittsburgh mayor, founder Manchester Bidwell Corp. could meet with Dalai Lama

August 20, 2018
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Mayor Bill Peduto (right) presents Manchester Bidwell Corp. founder Bill Strickland with a key to the city on Aug. 10, 2018 in the mayor’s conference room at the City-County Building, Downtown.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Bill Strickland Jr., founder of the Manchester Craftsman’s Guild and the Manchester Bidwell Corp., could meet with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama over plans for a Bidwell Training Center in India and a wellness program for Pittsburgh.

The two talked about their plans to meet with the Dalai Lama -- perhaps next year -- after the mayor presented Strickland with a key to the city Friday.

Strickland is only the third person to receive the symbolic key from Peduto.

Strickland, 70, founder of the Manchester Craftsman’s Guild and the Manchester Bidwell Corp., said he met the Dalai Lama in 2007 while delivering a speech about his work during a panel discussion in Austria. Two years ago, the Dalai Lama sent his emissary to Pittsburgh and he tour the Manchester center, Strickland said.

“As he looked around the center, he said, ‘You’ve built the center that His Holiness has always wanted to build. Maybe the two of you could build a center (in India),’” Strickland said. “Peduto and I have decided we’re going to go visit His Holiness in India and tee that up. If we pull that one off, man, that’s going to be an interesting story, but I think it’s game on.”

When Strickland was growing up in Pittsburgh during the tumultuous 1960s, he figured he’d be in prison 50 years later, not the mayor’s conference room receiving a key to the city or setting up a meeting with the Dalai Lama. Strickland, who grew up in Pittsburgh’s Manchester neighborhood, stepped down earlier this year from his role as the nonprofit Manchester Bidwell’s president and CEO to become its executive chairman and focus his work on public speaking, fundraising and helping other communities establish similar organizations. He recently finished setting up a center in Israel.

Peduto said the Dalai Lama’s personal physician, Dr. Barry Kerzin, an American-born Buddhist monk, visited Pittsburgh in May to help UPMC train nurses and doctors reduce stress through mindfulness and wellness programs. The mayor said he hopes to partner with UPMC to have nurses provide the same type of training in the future to children and the elderly at Pittsburgh recreation and senior centers.

“We would partner with UPMC to bring their nurses into our rec centers and our senior centers in order to create a wellfulness program, especially for areas of our city that are fraught with stress and violence,” Peduto said.

Peduto said he reinstated Pittsburgh’s highest civilian honor of bestowing a key to the city to recognize people who have been “absolutely instrumental in the positive change of Pittsburgh.”

“All throughout this planet Mr. Strickland has been recognized, not only for his humanitarianism, but for his entrepreneurialism and his deep conviction of how you can change a place by helping people,” Peduto said. “It’s my honor to be able to bestow upon him the key to the city of Pittsburgh, a key that he’s already had in many ways and a door that he has opened for so many countless people that he’ll never be able to know the lives that he changed.”

Strickland established the Guild in 1968 to provide disadvantaged youth with free courses in ceramics, design, digital studios and photography. The Training Center, established a few years later, partners with industries to train youths for in-demand jobs, including positions in medicine, culinary arts and horticulture technology.

Both fall under the umbrella of the Bidwell Corp along with a jazz program, a horticultural and agricultural technology program and the National Centers for Art and Technology. The programs have received international recognition.

Strickland said he was overwhelmed by the mayor’s gesture.

“I was thinking I’m probably going to be doing time at Western State Penitentiary. Unfortunately that’s where a lot of my buddies ended up,” he said.

He credited his parents with encouraging him to enter college and make a better life for himself.

“The demographics say I’m the guy who should not have succeeded,” he said. “Well, so much for the demographics. It’s all about motivation and exposure. That’s why I built the center, to let the guys know that I look just like you, and I came from the same neighborhood, and you don’t have to let the circumstances your in define your life.”

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