Those friendships have never been more important, or appreciated, than they are now, as Strickland battles Lou Gehrig's disease. The Cartersville resident, known for being a bridge between Marietta's black and white communities, will be the special guest at an appreciation gathering conducted by friends at his restaurant.
The public event will be from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. July 23 at Strick's Grill, 168 Hunt St. near Lemon Street, in downtown Marietta. The street will be closed for the event during those hours.
"He has never had a customer appreciation," said longtime friend Clarence Pennie, president of MG Systems Inc. and event coordinator. "This is basically a customer appreciation, back to the community, from Strick, is what this is."
Strickland was born the son of a sharecropper in Paulding County and moved with his family to Bartow County in 1954. He attended Summer Hill High School. In 1962, he graduated from Brown Barber College on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta and then moved to Marietta.
Strickland is known for his business and philanthropic endeavors in Cobb and Bartow counties,
In Marietta, he established S & M Enterprises, encompassing Strick's Grill, Strick's Barber Shop and S & M Laundromat. A barber for nearly 50 years, he has chaired the Georgia State Board of Barbers, was president of the National Association of Barber Boards of America and was inducted into the NABBA Hall of Fame, according to the The Daily Tribune News.
In Cobb, Strickland co-founded Blacks United for Youth-Cobb, which encourages youth leadership and secures college scholarships. In Bartow, he served on the board of the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce, New Frontier of Bartow County Inc., and is an emeritus member of the St. Luke African Methodist Episcopal Church steward board. He also helped establish the First Southern Bank in Lithonia.
But perhaps his biggest legacy is the leadership he has provided over five decades that has influenced the area's civic, business and political communities.
"He was one of the people that worked for the public good as well as anyone I've ever known," Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin told the Journal.
"Take 25 or 30 years ago, when diversity was more of a challenge. He was a good liaison between different types of people. Brought people together from different backgrounds and he did it with a smile, without making threats. He had a good social awareness."
Longtime friend Don Johnson, an Allstate insurance owner, said Strickland has been genuinely interested in improving the lives of youth, seniors and the underrepresented. For his efforts, Strickland has been honored with numerous awards.
"What made him special was the ability to connect the races," Johnson said. "When the pastors and faith community leaders needed someone to assist in a building ordinance with the city of Marietta or Cobb County, they called Strick. And Strick was able to navigate and facilitate that."
In spite of his recent health issues, Johnson said Strickland's mind remains "sharp as a tack." Strickland is expected to make a brief appearance at the appreciation event.
In a 2009 interview, Strickland told the Journal that as a self-made man, he was blessed to have had a lot of people counsel him in order to keep him moving in the right direction over his lifetime.
"My mother taught me that you work hard, treat people right and when you find something's wrong you straighten it out," Strickland said. "Do good in anything you put your hand into," he added, "And in the meantime you've got to give back to the community."