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Born in Boston, Hicks wrote for the Boston Chronicle while still in high school. He graduated from Drake University. After writing for the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper, he moved to New York City. He founded the On Guard Committee for Freedom, which included Amiri Baraka, Archie Shepp, A. B. Spellman and Walter Bowe. Hicks was executive director of the Monroe Defense Committee in support of Robert F. Williams, and was active in the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. He was one of the founders of Umbra Magazine, with poet and writer Tom Dent. Hicks was also a member of the Harlem Writers Guild, and active in the Black Arts Movement, where he is considered to have been one of the primary players. As a freelance writer, his articles appeared in Freedomways, New Challenge, New York Age.
He worked as an instructor at Brooklyn College, Richmond College (now known as College of Staten Island) and City College of New York. Beginning in 1969, he taught at Brandeis University, and then at Goddard College, Brown University, and at Roxbury Community College. He was a co-founder of the Black Educators Roundtable in Boston. From 1974 to 1975, he was a graduate fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1984, he graduated from Cambridge College with a master's degree in the philosophy of education. He was a member of the liberal arts faculty and administration at the New England Conservatory of Music from 1992 to 2008. He is also a faculty member at the Longy School of Music.
- Distinguished Achievement in Education Award (Boston Orchestra and Chorale, 1998)
- Distinguished Service Award, Dean of Arts and Sciences (Roxbury Community College, 1990)
- Greater Boston Gospel Academy Award (Roxbury Community Presbyterian Church, 1995)
- Millennium Award (Boston Orchestra and Chorale, 2001)
- Gospel in Majesty Award (Tri-ad Veterans League, Inc. and Magnolia Society, 2002)
- African Americans Making History Today: Bearers of the Flame/Passing the Torch Award (The Students of the Boston Renaissance Charter School, 2003)
- Community Fellows and Reflective Practice Alumni Award 2006, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Urban Studies and Planning
- Anna Bobbit Gardner/Coretta Scott King Lifetime Achievement Award 2005
- Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston declares "Calvin Hicks Day" (date: February 15) 2009
- Drum Major Award from the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Association, 2010
- "Making an impact as a responsible global citizen", The Times–Delphic, April 23, 2012.
- "Calvin L. Hicks", New England Conservatory.
- "Education Makers — Calvin Hicks", The History Makers.
- "Calvin Hicks Memorial Service", New England Conservatory, November 15, 2013.
"Calvin Hicks Memorial Service", New England Conservatory, November 15, 2013.