Michael Sorrell Revived Paul Quinn College (and Almost Died Doing It)

Dallas' only historically black college was on the brink of collapse. Now the students are protesters, the football field is a farm and the president is the star.

Michael Sorrell Revived Paul Quinn College (and Almost Died Doing It)
Danny Fulgencio

"You're saying I died?"

Michael Sorrell was lying in a bed at Methodist Hospital. It was September 14, 2008, and he had been unconscious for the better part of 72 hours. His chest had been sliced open, a battery-operated cardiac defibrillator implanted above his ribs. A nest of wires snaked in and out of his arms and torso.

Iron Man. He felt like Iron Man.

Student Ronisha Isham was on the receiving end of Sorrell's generosity; Jessika Lara graduated in December 2010 and now works as a student recruiter.
Danny Fulgencio
Student Ronisha Isham was on the receiving end of Sorrell's generosity; Jessika Lara graduated in December 2010 and now works as a student recruiter.
In 2010, Paul Quinn partnered with PepsiCo to dig up its football field and turn it into an urban farm for South Dallas; Sorrell eventually wants to open a grocery store.
Danny Fulgencio
In 2010, Paul Quinn partnered with PepsiCo to dig up its football field and turn it into an urban farm for South Dallas; Sorrell eventually wants to open a grocery store.

"What happened?"

Doctors tried to explain. He had suffered from a cardiac episode, they said. His girlfriend, Natalie, was by his side. She tried to explain, too.

She had been there that night, at his house in Oak Cliff. She awoke to Michael lurching in the bed, drowning in air. She dialed 911 and pressed her lips to his, forcing air into his lungs and thrusting against his chest the way she learned working summers at the pool in high school. She watched the medics place paddles on his chest to shock his heart. Still, he flat-lined. She looked at his lifeless face and his ashen bald head as they lifted him onto a stretcher and wheeled him down the driveway.

Really, though, his chart said it best.

Michael Sorrell. Sudden cardiac death. Patient had to be revived.

"Death?" Sorrell asked, seething. There were too many reasons why he couldn't die. He was tall and strong and smart and handsome. He had Natalie, who would soon be wearing the ring he'd already picked out. And he had dedicated the last 18 months of his life to Paul Quinn College, South Dallas' Historically Black — and Historically Corrupt and Historically Broken — college. He'd come on as a temp, as the interim guy, and had ended up as The Guy. His changes were just starting to take hold.

"How is this now my life?"

The doctors weren't sure. He might've had a genetic predisposition to an irregular heartbeat, but there was no way to check. His mother, his father and his grandparents were all dead. The doctors agreed that stress was a factor. Too much work, too little sleep. He was only 41, but his heart just gave way.


A year and a half earlier, on a warm spring morning, Sorrell exited Interstate 45 South onto Simpson Stuart Road in South Dallas. He passed a boarded-up gas station and a neighborhood of small, dilapidated houses and made a right onto the driveway that led to the Paul Quinn campus. It was 9:30 on his first day as president. He didn't want to be there any longer than his 90-day term, but he was still anxious. He pulled up a hill.

He noticed the abandoned buildings first. They were everywhere, boarded up, glass smashed out and lying on the ground, tall patches of foliage growing on the roofs. They were visual reminders of the campus' past: For 27 years this was Bishop College, a historically black Baptist school that provided thousands of African-Americans with an education and delivered many of them to Jesus Christ.

Then came the jackals. Embezzlers siphoned thousands of dollars, and the school finally collapsed in 1988. The property was auctioned for $1.5 million to Comer Cottrell, a black mega-millionaire who made his fortune in hair care. Cottrell donated the land to Paul Quinn College, a historically black school down the road in Waco.

Paul Quinn is the oldest historically black college west of the Mississippi, originally founded in 1872 by African Methodist Episcopal preachers. But like Bishop, the school had stumbled financially. Its president promptly moved its 1,000 students to Dallas, where it would theoretically have more students, and more money, from which to draw. But it couldn't populate the buildings, and it couldn't afford to do what probably should have been done: blow them up. So on that March morning, the school's abandoned buildings greeted Sorrell as sentinels, witnesses to two schools' dysfunction.

He took a tour of the grounds. He started in the dorms, where he found rooms with holes in the walls. Not cracks or punctures, but large, gaping holes in the drywall that had been punched through with fists, furniture and bodies. What students he found were mostly still in bed. No wonder the campus felt deserted.

I wouldn't let my son live here, he thought, even though he didn't have a son. He had grown up in Chicago, an upper-middle-class kid whose parents both owned businesses. His father owned a barbecue restaurant and was dedicated to his store, working or sleeping through all but one of his son's varsity basketball games. His mother owned a social work agency. She was the one who stressed education to Sorrell and his sister.

Sorrell, 6-foot-4 and well built, was recruited to play basketball out of high school. He was the first member of his family to eschew Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs, for a "white school," starting at Oberlin, the liberal arts mecca in rural Ohio, and going on to Duke for his master's in public policy. The day of his graduation, his mother hugged him and held him close.

"This is great," she said with pride. "But don't forget you're going to law school next."

He was 40 now, years removed from the bar exam, but he still remembered living in flawless dorms overlooking perfectly manicured lawns. Leaving Paul Quinn's dorms, he noted that no one had even bothered to cut the grass ahead of his arrival.

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23 comments
getsorrellaway
getsorrellaway

Tbrown .. those are the right answers!  We haven't heard the answers to those questions in years!


Tbrown
Tbrown

Paul Quinn College Fall semester 2011, they had over 200 students. Now, the Spring 2012 semester, they are less 50 students. What is the real problem at the institution? Why are students leaving? This is every semester, where is the retention rate? Sorrell talks about everything else to keep the focus off of the real problems....

Guest
Guest like.author.displayName 1 Like

This article is ridiculous....I wish the world knew what Michael Sorrell was really doing. He doesn't care about PAul Quinn, HBCU's, Southern Dallas, PQC's Students or anything else of the matter. He cares about hisself and has been committed to finding another job for the last 6 months and it seems that every other college can see through the mirror and know he if full of bullshit!!!! The only problem now is that there are still a few folks in dallas, texas who are blindslided and hopefully one day they will finally wake up. Wake up get in and save their school because its going to down.

getsorrellaway
getsorrellaway

@Guest So true.. Michael has been looking for longer than that but apparently other people can see through his bull!  Michael is all about hisself, blessed with the gift of gab, height and ugly face also coupled with arrogance of a horrible man.   Dallas will get it together we have to spread the real truth about him. 

catbird
catbird

The guy seems nice but a "Black College" in south Dallas is nothing if not redundent. As I recall there is a brand new UNT campus within walking distance of PQ who also has a black guy as president...if that means anything.

Nupe357
Nupe357

No, it doesn't mean anything

Guest
Guest

With all that being said, how has the school progressed. Ok, so you knocked down some old buildings and planted a few flowers. At the end of the day, the school is in worse shape than it has ever been. You people are being hoodwinked. It's a university. How has the school progressed in fulfilling its mission statement? Has enrollment increased? Are the 10 students that graduate each year finding employment? What does tearing down abandoned buildings and turning a football field into a farm has to do with being a successful HBCU? I understand that he is known as a cleanup man, but that hardly has to be what they intended him to do when he was put in this position. The school is stilll failing. The school is failing the students. Real issues are not being addressed and the changes that are most needed are not happening. Look at the other HBCUs. I am so sick of hearing about these same "achievements" in every article I read about concerning Paul Quinn. When will something new and relevant happen. What is Paul Quinn doing for the residents of South Dallas? I keep hearing about a grocery store, but has yet to see it. That farm is not for the benefit of South Dallas residents either. How many South Dallas residents do you know that are dying to buy kale, spinach, and arugula? This article is BS and nothing more. How many students from South Dallas attend or are accepted into Paul Quinn? Foolishness!

getsorrellaway
getsorrellaway

@Guest Pure foolishness exactly! No south dallas students are excepted. The admission policy is a joke... Sorrell goes through the pics and merely make jokes of how the kids look and make fun of their transcripts.  The answer to all your questions are no, none and not going to be any changes.  The school will close if things do not change. 

http://www.facebook.com/getsorrell.away


Church Lady
Church Lady

"to whom much is given much is required"Intellect,Integrity,Innovation can be seenin the leadership of Paul Quinn.

Bbetzen
Bbetzen

I've had the honor of observing President Sorrell in action several times, at City Hall, leading a student march accross a Trinity River bridge into downtown, and again at Paul Quinn college. He is saying the right things, at the right times, to the right people. We need leaders like this!

furniture stores Corpus Christ
furniture stores Corpus Christ

In Malaga city we find several shopping centers. Very near the train station is located in the Larios Shopping Centre. This mall is located in one of the best areas of Malaga, next to Avenida de Andalucia, in heart of the city, which facilitates access to it from the nearby towns.

Gary Lawson
Gary Lawson

I have had the distinct honor to have met President Sorrell and to have been at City Hall a few months ago when too few of us made the effort to celebrate what Paul Quinn College and its students are beginning to demonstrate right here in the heart of Dallas. President Sorrell is the man for this job and he is proving that he has the mind and the metal for this task.

The Mayor wants to see Dallas invest in the Southern Sector of Dallas, well Sorrell, Paul Quinn College and its students and faculty are demonstrating why such investment makes great sense. I commend and thank you Michael Sorrell for your servant leadership. thank you,Gary

getsorrellaway
getsorrellaway

@Gary Lawson Michael is a politician! That's all and failed lawyer... nothing else.

trudat
trudat

This is a good article. It's one of the few fairly positive articles that I have seen printed by this paper about a Black man.

SALES GUY
SALES GUY

Good to know Mike's story...know him [meet talked a few times] and meet him thru my Fraternity Brothers...didn't know he almost died...Great story...need more people who care...really care....

Edgar
Edgar

Great article. Sounds like Sorrell is doing a good job administering some hard medicine.

Aj_webstar
Aj_webstar

Sorrell is a trooper and an innovator i commend him on all his efforts

getsorrellaway
getsorrellaway

@Aj_webstar wow coming from you.. very surprising. 

Titus Groan
Titus Groan

News about Dallas is almost relentlessly depressing or outrageous.

Then you read an article like this, and think maybe, just maybe, there's hope for us.

Snapfish Coupons
Snapfish Coupons

I like Juliet Isabelle and Rosalind Elisabeth for Lily's twins and Rivers Michael and Raine Anthony for Daisy's twins.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano

Is Sorrell getting his students to register to vote, especially those living on campus? Considering how few votes it takes to win a city council election the students could become a swing constituency for their district. Even the neighboring districts if they ran a registration/get out the vote campaign. That might stop up flow control.

 
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