Pensole Lewis Plans to Reopen Historically Black College in Detroit

Today, Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design (PLC) has proposed draft legislation for state authorization to be recognized as Michigan’s single historically Black college and university (HBCU) with the intention to become the nation’s first re-opened HBCU.
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Pensole Footwear Design Academy studio in Portland
Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design submitted a proposal to the state legislature to be recognized as a HBCU. // Courtesy of Pensole Footwear Design Academy

Today, Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design (PLC) has proposed draft legislation for state authorization to be recognized as Michigan’s single historically Black college and university (HBCU) with the intention to become the nation’s first re-opened HBCU.

D’Wayne Edwards is the founder of Pensole Design Academy in Portland, Ore., and controlling stockholder of the previously closed Detroit-based HBCU, Lewis College of Business. Though a partnership with the College for Creative Studies, PLC will open in March 2022 and serve aspiring Black creatives, designers, engineers, and business leaders.

“The Lewis College of Business was first created in 1928 as a secretarial school for Black women. After relocating to Detroit in 1939, it became a critical source of economic impact for the city’s Black community,” says Edwards. “GM, Ford, and Michigan Bell hired their first Black office employees from the school. Eighty-two years later, and 14 years since it lost its accreditation as HBCU, I am honored to be resurrecting Violet T. Lewis’s legacy in Detroit.”

Among the college’s founding supporters are Dan and Jennifer Gilbert via The Gilbert Family Foundation and Target. For each partner, the commitment to launching PLC is part of larger, ongoing initiatives supporting the economic future of local and diverse communities.

“As a predominantly Black city, Detroit should have an operating Historically Black College. Not having one has been a hole in our educational landscape for too long,” says Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. “To have the first HBCU anywhere to reopen happen in Detroit would be a tremendous demonstration of how our city is coming back as a city of opportunity for people of color.

“The partnership between Pensole and CCS seems like a perfect match, and I fully support Dr. Edwards in his efforts to have the Michigan Legislature designate Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design as Michigan and Detroit’s only HBCU.”

The investment from The Gilbert Family Foundation comes as part of the organization’s ongoing, $500 million joint commitment to Detroit to drive access to economic and social opportunity and increase equity for Detroit residents.

“Dan and I are committed to investing in and developing programs that build wealth and create equitable access to opportunity for Detroiters,” says Jennifer Gilbert, co-founder of The Gilbert Family Foundation.

“We are proud to contribute to the Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design and know that this historic institution will once again cultivate a diverse talent pipeline and further cement Detroit’s legacy of innovation.”

For Target, the collaboration is part of its Racial Equity Action and Change (REACH) strategy formed in 2020 to accelerate Target’s work to advance racial equity, and its new five-year, $100 million commitment to fuel the economic prosperity of Black communities.

As part of the reinstatement process, PLC will request authorization from the Michigan Department of Education to operate as an educational corporation and through draft legislation will invite the legislature to recognize PLC as an HBCU in the state of Michigan.

Prior to reinstatement and its official opening, PLC will operate in partnership with and under the auspices of the College for Creative Studies. Lewis and the college are working together to gain the legal and legislative approval required.

PLC will be located in CCS’s A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education in Detroit’s New Center until its permanent home in Detroit is selected and developed. Enrollment for PLC’s program is expected to open in December.

“CCS’s partnership with Pensole Design Academy is driven by our strong commitment to develop diverse creative talent and long-standing commitment to the City of Detroit. Together, CCS and Pensole will create a new resource to support the aspirations of Detroiters,” says Don Tuski, president of CCS.

“The fact that Pensole chose CCS, Detroit, and the Lewis College of Business is a testament to CCS’s robust alumni network of minority footwear designers, Detroit’s design legacy, and the impact of this historical HBCU on Detroit.”

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