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Partnership to Breathe New Life into Shuttered Detroit HBCU

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​The Pensole-Lewis College of Business and Design is seeking approval from the Michigan Legislature for its own designation as an Historically Black College.

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Detroit may soon be the home to an HBCU again.

The College for Creative Studies is partnering with Portland-based Pensole Design Academy to open the Pensole-Lewis College of Business and Design.

The effort reopens the Lewis College of Business, Michigan’s only Historically Black College and University, which closed in 2013.

Our goal is also to establish the first design-focused HBCU,” he says. “The other goal that we have is to continue our free education that we do at Pensole and make Pensole Lewis College a free tuition HBCU.” —Dr. D’Wayne Edwards, Pensole Design Academy

Dr. D’Wayne Edwards, founder of the Pensole Design Academy, says the college trained the Black women who provided an essential workforce for local industry.

They supplied GM and Ford, Michigan Bell and several other countless Michigan-based corporations with their first Black office employees,” Edwards says. “There were several Black people working in the factories but not in the offices.”

Lewis Business College was founded in Indianapolis in 1928 by Violet T. Lewis, with the focus to train Black women for secretarial jobs. Due to segregation laws at that time, the private and public post-secondary schools in Indiana did not accept African American students. The school relocated to Detroit in 1939.

Later reorganized as the Lewis College of Business, it was designated by the U.S. Secretary of Education as an HBCU in 1987, making it the only HBCU in Michigan.

Edwards says the Pensole-Lewis partnership has three goals. One is to be the first closed HBCU to reopen.

Our goal is also to establish the first design-focused HBCU,” he says. “The other goal that we have is to continue our free education that we do at Pensole and make Pensole Lewis College a free tuition HBCU.”

The college’s status as an HBCU must be approved by the state Legislature. Lawmakers may have the chance to consider the question as soon as this week.

Among the project’s founding supporters are Dan and Jennifer Gilbert via The Gilbert Family Foundation, and Target. The investment from the Gilbert Family Foundation comes as part of the organization’s $500 million initiative in Detroit. Prior to its official opening and reinstatement, Pensole Lewis will operate in partnership with and under the auspices of College for Creative Studies, which is working with Pensole on the legal and legislative approval process to establish the college.

Pensole Lewis College will be located in CCS’s A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education until its permanent home in Detroit is selected and developed. Enrollment for Pensole Lewis’s program is expected to open December of this year, with a March 2022 opening date.

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Sascha Raiyn, Education Reporter

Sascha Raiyn is Education Reporter at 101.9 WDET. She is a native Detroiter who grew up listening to news and music programming on Detroit Public Radio.

sraiyn@wdet.org Follow @raiyn

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