When Tim’m West told a packed crowd at Revel OTR Urban Winery last week that Cincinnati was the first city he lived in where he didn’t have a support system, you may think that he was one of those who returned to the Queen City just to complain about living here.
But I then watched as he panned the audience and said, “So I had to create one myself.”
I was attending the February 7th “Let’s Have the Conversation,” event sponsored by the University of Cincinnati’s Infectious Diseases Division. The event hosted a National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day panel featuring several area experts working in medicine and inclusion, including Cincinnati City Councilwoman Tamaya Dennard and Tim’m West.
Throughout Revel’s upstairs bar area, the space was packed. West flashed his trademark smile, his arms cutting the air, as he addressed the crowd, discussing the moment he decided to make public that he was living with HIV.
“I was teaching high school students,” he said. “And I asked them how they would react if they found out that they had contracted HIV.” West described how, one after another, the students expressed that they would commit suicide rather than live with HIV.
“It was then I knew I had to make my stats known,” he said.
The first time I met Tim’m West, who currently works at Teach For America as the senior managing director of LGBTQ community initiatives, it was a little over a year ago, just as he relocated back home to Cincinnati. West ran across one of my books being sold at Leftbank Coffeehouse in Covington and the baristas put us in contact with one another.
A few days after the event, I was able to catch up with West on the phone during one of his breaks presenting at Teach For America’s School Leaders of Color Conference in Dallas, TX.
West, who lived on Race Street in Over-the-Rhine in the late 70s as a child, has the radical idea of creating an inclusive community fully vested in the country at large, partially based on his travels.
“I was amazed at how different things are now in Cincinnati,” West says. “Things have changed just in short period of time. See, during my time away, no one thought that Cincinnati would be a place that they would want to live. But today, it’s different.”
“Cincinnati even has gay city council members,” he continues, enthusiastically. “I knew it was time to move home.”
Today, West makes his mark as an educator, multi-discipline performance artist, author, hip-hop recording artist, poet, activist, and youth advocate.
After leaving Cincinnati at the age of 4 in 1980, West grew up primarily in Little Rock, Arkansas and later Taylor, Arkansas. In high school, West was captain of his basketball team and president of his school’s chapter of Future Farmers of America.
West received his undergraduate degree in philosophy from Duke University in 1994, with a concentration in women’s studies and pre-law. He then went on to receive his Master’s of Arts in liberal studies from The New School for Social Research in New York City. He later earned a Master’s in modern thought and literature from Stanford University.
For his work, West has been featured in many documentaries throughout the years about hip-hop culture. Outside of the many books he has published, he is widely anthologized, and has produced nine hip-hop albums, including one with Deep Dickollective. West has also been interviewed by media outlets such Newsweek and The New York Times and was awarded the “2013 Esteem Award.” A few years later, LGBT History Month selected West as one of 31 LGBT Icons.
Currently, West feels his job at Teach For America, “Bridges his work as an educator with his long-standing commitment to LGBTQ youth advocacy,” and also helps him form communities that are invested in the country as a whole.
Sitting on stage at Revel last week, West was channeling his past self. His Cincinnati inner-child. On that stage, along with his peers, West expressed the hope that the world could be a space of inclusion and not division. Where people never have to wake up and think about being “other.”
This is the second story in an ongoing series about Cincinnati’s “boomerang” residents — people who grew up here, left, and then came back for various personal, professional, and sentimental reasons. If you or someone you know qualifies and would like to be featured in Soapbox, email firstname.lastname@example.org.