Whitmer signs bill reopening Michigan’s first historically Black college

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday signed legislation to relaunch Michigan’s first historically Black college or university in Detroit.

D’Wayne Edwards, the founder of the Pensole Design Academy in Portland, Oregon, recently announced plans to turn the former Lewis College of Business, the state's first HBCU, which closed in 2013, into a design-focused school.

“I am proud to play a part in helping reopen the Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design in Detroit,” Whitmer said in a statement. “I am committed to expanding educational opportunities for Michiganders across our state to put Michigan first.”

D'Wayne Edwards, founder of Pensole Design Academy, Portland, Oregon, announces the Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design in Detroit in October.

Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design is expected to open in 2022 on the campus of the College for Creative Studies in Detroit.  

“Michigan’s creative talent has long been an important part of its economic success. This is underscored by the fact that the state boasts the highest concentration of commercial and industrial designers in the country and that Detroit is the only U.S. city recognized as a UNESCO City of Design,” said Don Tuski, president of College for Creative Studies.

“I want to thank Governor Whitmer for taking action to support this pipeline of underserved talent alongside the countless partners who have stood up to make this a reality. We can create generations of equitable access to the skills that will lead to good-paying jobs and create products and services that can define the future.”

"Detroit now has the first HBCU anywhere to reopen," Mayor Mike Duggan said Tuesday. "As a predominantly Black city, this helps send a clear message that we are building one city, for everyone with opportunity for everyone."

Edwards has said the college would not grant degrees like a typical college and be "majority tuition-free." Brands would pay for students' tuition and housing.

“Our goal is to celebrate Violet T. Lewis’ life’s work she established in the city of Detroit in 1939," said Edwards, who will be president. "Today moves us forward to another major step in continuing her legacy with the support of our founding partners College for Creative Studies, Target, and The Gilbert Family Foundation.” 

 The Gilbert Family Foundation has committed $500 million to projects in Detroit to help improve economic opportunities for those living in the city.

"I applaud the Governor's commitment to developing a diverse talent pipeline here in Michigan by signing this legislation into law that would rebuild and reopen the Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design," Jennifer Gilbert, co-founder of the Gilbert Family Foundation, said in a statement to The Detroit News. "Dan and I are proud to support this historic institution, which will provide generations of Detroiters equitable access to opportunity for the jobs of the future."

The Lewis College of Business operated in Detroit starting in 1939 and received its HBCU designation in 1987, officials said.

State Rep. Joe Tate, D-Detroit, who sponsored one of the bills Whitmer signed Tuesday paving the way for the reopening, said he was "proud to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle and the governor to have an HBCU back in the city of Detroit."

Katrenia L. Camp, president at the Detroit Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., said Whitmer "made history" through the legislation signed Tuesday.

“This will give countless students a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to follow in their parents’ and grandparents’ footsteps by attending an HBCU right here in the city of Detroit," she said.