Since 1976, the Payne-Pulliam School of Trade and Commerce — the old fashioned-looking two story building at 2345 Cass — has provided post-secondary education to Detroiters.
“All our students are generally past high school age,” said Freddie M. Lindsay-Payne, vice president/coordinator.
Many people may not realize the school is open because they don’t do a lot of advertising on the building itself.
“I think we’ve got more now than we’ve had in the past, with the name, and under the name the Michigan Works Affiliate,” she added.
The school, which was accredited in 1978 to offer business education and granted non-profit status in 1983, has been a Michigan Works! Affiliate since 1996.
Betty E. Pulliam, president and director, notes that Payne-Pulliam has always been a private training institution.
“While the word ‘school’ is in our name, we’re more a training institution,” she said. “We have always been funded through various governmental entities. We’ve worked with the State of Michigan and some of their funded programs. Ninety percent of our funded programs have come through the City of Detroit with their employment and training programs. And then we’ve done work with the Detroit Public Schools”
When they originally started with a focus on business education, the concept was not to have large classes. Both were products of the Detroit Public Schools where large classes were common.
“So when we did our advertising, we advertised small classes, one-on-one,” Lindsay-Payne said. “And we developed a system of taking people in, not on any semester basis, but on an open entry/open exit kind of basis. So people were able to come in and move along at the pace they were at.”
In addition, Payne-Pulliam had people who were interested in helping to build a whole person. They identified with the customers and clients.
“We know what they need, and we try to give them what they need in order to make it in this society,” Lindsay-Payne said.
They both graduated from the High School of Commerce, the sister school of Cass Tech, which was eventually torn down to make way for the Fisher Freeway.
The High School of Commerce gave graduates a strong work ethic.
“We were very professionally trained,” Pulliam said, and they were motivated to become the best they could be.
“Mrs. Lindsay-Payne and I were city employees, but we started working for three gentlemen who started this business,” Pulliam said. “The RJA Training Institute. And what they were asked to do by the State of Michigan was run a clerical program for women who were receiving social service.”
Those women were having a difficult time blending in with the regular school setting.
“Our idea was, ‘Let’s give us a chance to push Commerce High School to the adults,” she said, adding that corporations need workers with skills beyond what they were getting from DPS.”
Pulliam also said Payne-Pulliam prepares its students for the workforce by insisting that they dress appropriately for the business world.
“They don’t have to do all the things that we ask them to do,” she said. “But we know that in order for them to be successful, to be able to hold down a job and be able to get the jobs they’re looking for, they need to have a certain appearance, have work ethics and good social skills.”
The market we’re all working in today is very difficult, noted Pulliam.
“If you look at what’s going on, with people’s lack of respect for one another, it’s a hurting society,” she said. “We feel that the kind of work we do here — as Freddie said, working one-on-one with a customer, helping them with their personal skill development — is very much needed.”
She and Lindsay-Payne had a “village” when they were growing up — a reference to the aphorism that it takes a village to raise a child — but their customers today don’t have that “village.”
“They live in fear in their neighborhoods and they don’t reach out to others,” she said. “So we try very hard to continue the philosophy of one-on-one personal growth skills.”
They have crossed from being a private school where they recruit students into a skills program. They now contract with the City of Detroit.
“We have responsibility of touching 1,000 students, minimal, per year,” she said. “They’re in a four to eight week short-term program. And our responsibility is to teach them job-ready skills, help them with their résumés, help them with their interviews, help them in dressing properly, help them find jobs.”