Student center

Talladega College Student Center Honors Kent Roosevelt Alum Hawkins

Billy C. Hawkins has been so focused on promoting young people for the past 43 years that he didn’t realize he was a pioneer in his own right.

He didn’t know, for example, that he was the first African-American football coach hired in Lansing public schools or that he was the youngest football coach ever hired in Michigan, and he later learned that he was the first African American to chair the Alabama Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

He was, however, acutely aware of the significance and weight of his final superlative as the first black president to have a building named in his honor at Talladega College.

“We just knew he had a plan, a purpose for the kids there. As LeBron says he’s just a kid from Akron, I’m just saying this kid from Kent has done great things and has made great strides and his accomplishments are above and beyond,” Hawkins’ brother Stan Boykin, of Kent, said.

Hawkins, who graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1972 and was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2004, was born and raised in the south end of Kent. He and his five siblings, including Boykin and Carmen Bell, from Tallmadge, all attended schools in Kent, from primary to high school.

Billy C. Hawkins played football and basketball at Kent Roosevelt High School.  The 1972 graduate is now president of Talladega College in Alabama.

Their mother, the late Jessie Boykin, was a babysitter at Holden Elementary School for 29 years, and “if he’s a Boykin in Kent, he’s either a first cousin or a brother,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins said he was heavily influenced by his mother, brother Stan, the late Roosevelt principal Michael Kneale, Tom Campana, Dave Grosse and others in Kent.

Hawkins became president of Talladega College in 2008 when the institution had about 300 students and was about to close. During his tenure, enrollment grew to 1,200 and three new buildings were constructed, including a brand new museum to house and display a $50 million art collection, a new residence hall and the student center, which bears his name.

“To me, it felt like a gift to the student body. The school in its history had never had a student activity center on campus since its beginnings in 1867,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins learned in March from the college’s board that the building would be named in his honor and shared the news with his family, who suspected they might not be able to attend the celebrations due to the pandemic.

Instead, Stan Boykin and other family members provided pre-recorded messages. The ceremony also included a 2004 clip of Kneale giving a speech about Hawkins.

Hawkins said he was thrilled his family would one day see the building in person with his name at the entrance.

Talladega College President Billy C. Hawkins speaks during an appointment ceremony.  Talladega named its student center after Hawkins, who graduated from Kent Roosevelt High School in 1972.

“When I look at the buildings on campus and look at the names, there’s a deep history. Some of these names have been on the buildings for 100 years. So you think 100, 200 years later, if this institution still works, that name is there. It’s not a temporary situation,” Hawkins said.

“We hope others can learn more about this story in the future.”

Reporter Krista S. Kano can be reached at 330-541-9416, [email protected] or on Twitter @KristaKanoRCedu.