Former Nike designer D’Wayne Edwards is resurrecting Michigan’s only HBCU as a hub for Black creatives. (Courtesy Photo)

By AFRO Staff

Detroit, “America’s Comeback City,” may soon earn another distinction as the site of the nation’s first-ever “comeback” HBCU.

Former Nike designer D’Wayne Edwards plans to resurrect the Lewis College of Business, Michigan’s only HBCU, in March 2022. If the state legislature approves the school’s reauthorization, the now- PENSOLE Lewis College of Business will be the nation’s only HBCU in the U.S. dedicated to design.

“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,” said Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan in a statement. “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 Lewis College of Business was first founded in 1928 by Violet T. Lewis in Indiana as a secretarial school for Black women. After relocating to Detroit in 1939, it became a critical source of economic enrichment for the city’s Black community. GM, Ford, and Michigan Bell hired their first Black office employees from the school. Like many HBCU’s, however, the school faced disparities in funding and financial issues and lost accreditation in 2013.

Now, Edwards plans to reimagine the school as a conduit for aspiring Black creatives, designers, engineers, and business leaders, giving them the opportunities he didn’t have as a young man growing up in Inglewood, Calif.

“As a teenager, I heard the words ‘No black kid from Inglewood will ever become a footwear designer.’ In January 1989, I started my journey into the footwear industry as one of very few Black footwear designers,” Edwards said in an Instagram post.

He continued, “In June 2010, I set out to create a footwear design academy. In 11 short years, PENSOLE has become the academy I dreamed it would. Our journey has not been easy, but all of it has been worth it because of the dreams we’ve fulfilled and the industry we helped make more diverse.

“Today, we embark on our next chapter. Today is the day PENSOLE becomes a college.”

Unlike typical colleges, PENSOLE would not grant a degree. Instead, students would earn certification after taking courses crafted to suit the demands of associated design brands—much as it is with Edwards’ PENSOLE Design Academy in Portland, Oregon. That program’s sponsors include brands like Nike, Asics, Adidas, New Balance and other shoe and clothing brands.

The college will be mostly tuition free, aided by investments from The Gilbert Family Foundation and Target.

Until it gains a permanent home, the school will be housed at and will operate under the auspices of the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. CCS will aid PENSOLE in attaining accreditation and legislative approval.

Enrollment for PENSOLE Lewis’s program is expected to open in December.

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