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PENSOLE Design Academy & CCS Partner to Create the PENSOLE Lewis College of Business and Design & Become the Nation’s First HBCU to Reopen

October 12, 2021
Representatives from CCS, PENSOLE, the Lewis Family and the Gilbert Family Foundation

The College for Creative Studies is excited to announce a new partnership with the Pensole Design Academy, a footwear design academy currently located in Portland OR, which will move the academy to Detroit and relaunch Michigan’s only Historically Black College and University (HBCU) as the PENSOLE Lewis College of Business and Design (PLC). PLC will open in March 2022 on CCS’s campus and serve aspiring Black creatives, designers, engineers, and business leaders. 

Dr. D’Wayne Edwards, a noted footwear designer and founder of PENSOLE, is the majority stakeholder in the closed Lewis College of Business, a historic institution in the City of Detroit that was once the only HBCU in Michigan. In fact, CCS’s administration building is the original site of the Lewis College of Business, with a historic plaque located on CCS’s campus. 

“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. GM, Ford, and Michigan Bell hired their first Black office employees from the school. 82 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,” says Dr. Edwards. 

CCS has entered into a non-binding memorandum of understanding to develop a joint venture with PENSOLE to establish PLC. While other HBCUs may offer some design degrees, PLC will be the only HBCU to focus on design. Bipartisan legislation is expected to be introduced in the Michigan State Legislature in October to recognize PLC as an HBCU in the state of Michigan. Federal reauthorization will also be sought to recognize PENSOLE-Lewis as “re-opened” so that it becomes eligible for federal funding available to HBCUs. While this will be the first time a closed HBCU has re-opened, PLC will be the fourth HBCU currently operating as part of another institution.  

“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 PLC College of Business and Design as Michigan and Detroit’s only HBCU.”

CCS is an ideal partner for Pensole, given CCS’s long history of providing talent to the footwear industry. A lengthy list of CCS alumni have been mentored by Dr. Edwards, who says he is “100% sure that CCS has graduated the most black footwear designers in our industry of any school.” CCS alumni are well represented at some of the biggest names in the footwear industry, like Nike, Jordan, New Balance, Adidas and Converse. PENSOLE is looking to CCS for its established, reputable academic and operational infrastructure in order to re-open PLC. In addition, CCS’s many community programs – whether the Bridge program, Community Arts Partnership, Design Core Detroit and Kresge Arts in Detroit – are a launching point to help PENSOLE engage with the broader Detroit community. 

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

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

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.  

While CCS is one of the most diverse AICAD schools (with 38% of its student body non-white and 34% of students demonstrating high financial need through the federal Pell grant program), it is committed to further increasing accessibility of the institution.

“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,” Don Tuski, College for Creative Studies President says, “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.”

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