Plans announced to reopen Detroit’s historically Black college with new mission

Lewis College of Business could be first HBCU to reopen in the country if approved

A group is reviving a long-shuttered college in Detroit to help teach the next generation of leaders.

DETROIT – The Lewis College of Business was once the only historically Black college in Michigan until it closed in 2013.

Now, a group led by a prominent business owner and designer is aiming to make the college the first HBCU in the country to ever reopen, but with a new name and mission.

It was announced on Tuesday that pending state legislation, the college would reopen as PENSOLE Lewis College of Business & Design and become the first design-focused HBCU.

It was an announcement filled with emotion from the man behind the idea, Dr. D’Wayne Edwards.

“Today is one of those days, it’s one of those days, once I found out what was possible I didn’t let anyone stop me,” said the Inglewood, California, native as he stood at the podium outside of the college’s building and historic marker.

Edwards is the founder of PENSOLE Design Academy in Portland, Oregon. He’s designed shoes for brands like Asics, New Balance, Nike and Air Jordan. He is now one of the forces behind the brand-new PENSOLE-Lewis College of Business and Design.

“When corporations from other facets of design start to reach out and say ‘Hey can you help us figure out how can we be a more diverse organization’ that was simple,” said Edwards.

The conversation started 11 months ago. Since then, a partnership has developed between him and his academy, the Lewis Family, the City of Detroit, Target, College for Creative Studies and the Gilbert Family Foundation.

Edwards said Black people make up 10% of students in colleges or universities for design. Half of those students drop out because of money. That’s why the goal is to be a tuition-free institution.

“If I can remove that barrier of the finances that kid will have a higher probability of those kids going to college,” he said.

Currently, PENSOLE Academy of Design is tuition free. Corporations sponsor students and their housing, and PLC will have a similar model.

The founder of the original Lewis College of Business, Dr. Violet T. Lewis, started the college in 1928 in Indianapolis then relocated it to Detroit in 1939. Her granddaughter and namesake, Dr. Violet E. Ponders, is excited about the new legacy.

“They (students) will have an education that is meaningful and that definitely results in employment. That’s what my grandmother was all about,” said Ponders.

She believed her grandmother and mother were there in spirit.

“You feel this wind blowing in this place? You see the apples falling on the tree? All of that I think is her way and my mother’s way of saying, ‘I’m here y’all,’” she said.

After final approval from the state, Edwards wants to start class on Detroit Day, which is March 13.

“The first session will be will be a celebration of Detroit brands,” he said. “I think it’s important for us to understand our history, before we start to bring other people to the party. So we want to ground everything that we do initially into Detroit, and then we’ll start bringing our other partners that are from other parts of the country to Detroit.”

This collaboration is part of the Gilbert Family Foundation’s ongoing $500 million joint commitment to Detroit to drive access to economic and social opportunity and increase equity for the people of Detroit.

For Target, this is part of its Racial Equity Action and Change Strategy, a five-year $100 million commitment to fuel the economic prosperity of Black communities. It started in 2020.

Read back: Historic marker pays tribute to Detroit’s Black Bottom neighborhood

About the Author:

Megan Woods is thrilled to be back home and reporting at Local 4. She joined the team in September 2021. Before returning to Michigan, Megan reported at stations across the country including Northern Michigan, Southwest Louisiana and a sister station in Southwest Virginia.