By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
The Birmingham Times
Birmingham native Erwin Prentiss Hill is all about historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs)—and not just because he is the product of two.
The A.H. Parker High School alumnus is CEO of the Chicago-based Black College Sports Group 360 (BCSG), a nonprofit that uses black college sporting events to promote educational opportunities to urban youth.
The firm, founded in January 2016, promoted this year’s Magic City Diamond Classic between Alabama State University and Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University at Regions Field on April 7. (ASU’s Hornets beat A&M’s Bulldogs, 9-2.)
“The bottom line is to get more urban youth back to our HBCUs,” said Hill, who earned an undergraduate degree from Tennessee State University and a master’s degree from Clark Atlanta University. “With the rising cost of education, the trend across the board has been a decline in enrollment at [both] predominately white institutions [and] predominately black institutions.”
HBCUs have been hit hard by the decline in enrollment, he said, citing schools like Tuscaloosa’s Stillman College, which is facing financial challenges because of lower enrollment.
Broad Range of Programs
BCSG 360 tries to help HBCUs in several ways. The company has three full-time employees and another dozen contract workers who work on several year-round programs, such as the HBCU Beautillion. This event, similar to a cotillion but for males, is part of a five-month program intended to prepare high school seniors for college and life.
“This is for students with a 2.5 GPA and a 16 or 17 ACT score,” Hill said. “We provide support and services that help them boost their GPAs and their ACT scores so they can be more viable and qualified for scholarship opportunities.”
Another BCSG 360 program, HBCYou Scholars, is designed to advise and support high-achieving high school seniors in all aspects of the HBCU search and admissions process.
“These oftentimes may be first-generation college prospects,” Hill said. “They have good grades, good GPAs. They just do not have an understanding from a previous generation of what it takes to navigate that process.”
The company also conducts a summer internship program, during which students are developed on a professional and career level and then placed with businesses and organizations that, ideally, have HBCU ties.
“They get hands-on experience in a career that they plan to pursue,” Hill said.
BCSG’s HBCU Academy, a 10-week after-school program for students of all grade levels, works in partnership with each community, school, and family to design a plan that meets each student’s specific needs relating to college and career readiness—with a focus on HBCUs.
Hill, 40, can relate to both the academic and athletic aspects of his job, even though decades have passed since he put on a football or baseball uniform for the Parker High Thundering Herd.
“I played wide receiver and made a living of not getting tackled,” said Hill. “I should have actually played defensive back. I had good hands, but I probably would have been a better cornerback than wide receiver.”
He counts not playing football as an undergraduate at Tennessee State among his few regrets. Another regret: the full academic scholarship he lost because he lacked discipline. But, he says, he learned from that.
“Losing that scholarship helped me appreciate what I had,” said Hill, who lives in Chicago but frequently visits Birmingham. “That’s what fuels me. I want more young men, primarily in urban communities, to get those opportunities, to take advantage of those opportunities, [and] learn from my mistakes.”
Another lesson from that experience: “It taught me to not quit,” Hill said. “It taught me to persevere. It taught me that no matter what the circumstances are, you continue to push through and good things will happen.”
Hill and his wife, Dawn, have a 2-year-old son, Prentiss II. And the Hill family is widely known in Birmingham. His brother, Ervin Philemon Hill II, is a 2017 mayoral candidate; he, too, works in sports management, albeit with a different company. Their father encourages them to put on events in Birmingham, such as the recent Magic City Diamond Classic at Regions Field.
“That’s how I got them back home,” the elder Hill said. “I begged them to come here and create something. I felt we had room for them to grow, develop, and create some business here.”