EVEN WHEN chilling on Sunday morning at the African American Museum in Philadelphia, Russell Hicks is the whirlwind of entrepreneurial energy that won him the Knight Foundation's $20,500 Black Male Engagement Award.

He invested it in the young African-Americans whom he guides into owning businesses.

"Untold stories," says Hicks, 36, reflecting on the museum's mural titled "Audacious Freedom: African Americans in Philadelphia 1776-1876" and on people he's mentored - from ex-offender Robert Young, a barber who owns a mobile hair salon, to Temple University freshman Rashawn Williams, who owns Phresh Philadelphia, which organizes block-by-block cleanups.

Even as Hicks plans to revitalize his '95 Nissan Altima on Sunday afternoon with a new distributor cap, he's preparing to bus dozens of high-school seniors, transcripts in hand, on March 8 to Tarboro, N.C., where 50 historically black colleges will recruit them.

"We aim to come home with 1,000 acceptance letters, 10 for each student," Hicks says. "Not just students with 3.0 averages but those with 2.0s who don't believe they can go to college and will discover they can."

For months, Hicks collected used sneakers for a fundraiser, sponsored by Sneaker Villa, that paid for the college-trip buses.

After finishing his own college career at Howard University in 2000, Chicago-born Hicks drove to Philly, selling his own Ebony Suns Enterprises T's out of his car to pay for gas.

He's helped hundreds of young black Philadelphians become entrepreneurs ever since.

- Dan Geringer