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.

"He's bought my ticket every year," McKinnon says. "He's never asked for anything in return."

Ronisha Isham tells another story. One time, Sorrell was speaking in the student union during an event in the grand lounge. He noticed one student in the front row squinting.

"How many kids can't see me right now?" he asked. He remembered being nearsighted as a kid.

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.

It turned out 10 percent of the student body needed glasses. He raised $5,000 in 10 days through Facebook and Twitter to outfit them with eyewear.

Isham also has a severe walking disability. She has to take a step, open up her hips, and swing her trail leg all the way around, before repeating on the other side. She was having trouble getting around campus. He bought her a bike.

Today, there are fewer than 200 students enrolled at the school, and more than 90 percent of the staff is new. The ones who Price allows to be interviewed are fully bought in, automatons of righteousness. Sorrell wants 2,000 kids enrolled by 2020. He even has a name for them: Quinnites.


North and South Dallas have long existed as separate entities, sharing only a name. Their jurisdictions stop at the river, and rarely do the two overlap. When they do, it's usually for a nice dinner or a political clash. And when there's a clash, there's a cadence that follows, a dance that everyone knows and respects.

It happened last summer. The city, facing a budget shortfall, proposed a law that would require every commercial trash hauler to reroute their trucks to McCommas Bluff, the city-owned dump. The law would earn the city as much as $18 million a year in tipping fees. The cost: Every commercial hauler would now trudge through South Dallas, to a dump less than two miles from Paul Quinn.

Those who know the cadence know what happened next: Out came a small but vocal faction of activists, who tried to rally an oft-exploited community. Then came the olive branch, stretching south across the river and studded with dollars.

"When black people get hot, City Hall gives the preachers some money to cool them down," says civil rights activist Reverend Peter Johnson, who scornfully calls South Dallas preachers "the city's firemen." The preachers in turn soothe their congregations, cutting the legs from under the fighters.

"That's the Dallas way," he says. "That's as much a part of Dallas culture as cowboy boots."

This time the cool-down came with a name: the Southeast Oak Cliff Stimulus Fund. To appease South Dallas, the city promised to redirect up to $1 million from the new revenue into the fund. With any luck, whichever South Dallas residents who knew or cared about the shit mountain headed their way would be won over by the stimulus fund.

But then the black kids showed up.

Sorrell first heard about this plan — the city calls it "flow control" — from a reporter looking for a scoop: "How do you guys feel about the fact that the city is going to reroute all the garbage from the city to the McCommas Bluff Landfill a mile and a half from your campus?"

"What?" Sorrell asked. He had never heard of flow control.

"Did anyone bother to fill you guys in?"

At the time, Sorrell was teaching his Introduction to Quinnite Servant Leadership course to 13 incoming freshmen. Quinnites among Quinnites.

After hearing from his reporter friend, Sorrell addressed this class.

"This is a big deal," he remembers saying. "All the garbage in the city is going to be a mile and a half from our campus. I signed up to go speak down at City Hall during a hearing on this." The hearing was during class time. No problem. He told the class they were coming, too.

Sorrell arrived at City Hall flanked by Quinnite Nation. The 13 freshmen attended, as well as most of the summer faculty — about 45 people in all.

"Where's the impact study?" he railed. "What happens to the community when you make this decision, right? How does it affect the quality of life? How does it affect development prospects? How does it affect us?"

The city postponed a decision to get more feedback from the public, so the freshmen decided to host a town hall meeting in the Paul Quinn student union. Sorrell supported the idea, but he warned them.

"If you're going to do this, the issue you're concerned about is turnout," he remembers saying. "You don't want to hold a town hall meeting with 12 of your best friends and think that people are going to take you seriously."

They had the meeting on campus in the grand lounge in the student union. More than 250 people showed up. Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Tennell Atkins was on the panel, as was the head of the city's Sanitation Services, Mary Nix; and Assistant City Manager Ryan Evans. It was the largest South Dallas community meeting anyone could remember. The Quinnites even live-streamed it, and the panel took questions from the audience via Facebook, Twitter and text message.

There was some skepticism about their enthusiasm, and Sorrell's role in it. Bob Weiss, the chairman of the school's board, says he heard accusations that the students had taken money from waste haulers. "You cannot tell any historically black school not to be involved in social justice," he says.

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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

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.

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.

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!

RC
RC

Brilliance and leadership with a mission in South Dallas. ALL of Dallas needs more people like Michael Sorrell..

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

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

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.

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. 

Nupe357
Nupe357

No, it doesn't mean anything

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


getsorrellaway
getsorrellaway

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

getsorrellaway
getsorrellaway

@Aj_webstar wow coming from you.. very surprising. 

 
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