Tim'm T. West brings a roller-coaster background to the Center on Halsted, where he works with youth who range in age from 13 to 24, primarily gay men of colorand many definitely can relate with his past.
He's lived on food stamps to survive at one point in life, has two brothers who were in gangs and, while growing up, his dad was very homophobic. West personally hit rock bottom in 1999 when he was diagnosed with AIDS, not just being HIV-positiveand was told he only had about a year to live, if he didn't take action immediately.
He also, on the personal front, started one of the first Black queer hip-hop groups, Deep Dickollective, who rapped together from 1999 until 2007. Plus, West has had a solo hip-hop career, with his most recent album, "Fly Brotha," released in the summer of 2011.
"To be in this position and be a model/influence for young people, it's very rewarding," West said. "People sometimes approach youth work from a very clinical perspective. However, I definitely am able to relate my experiences to them as someone who was also a young, Black gay male who experienced a lot of struggle.
"When I open up [to the youth], and they realize that I've had some of the same struggles many of them have now, I think it makes a difference."
One example is the life of Ryan Hart, 25, a fellow South Side native who also is an HIV-positive activist. Hart is now a board member on ACCESS Community Health's Advisory Council and the board council for the AIDS Foundation Chicago's Housing Program. Hart was named to Windy City Times' 30 Under 30 this year.
"I know I've impacted his life. I'm very proud of what I've done to help him, and absolutely proud of where he's at now," West said.
"My job can be very challenging, but also be a very rewarding job. I know there were pivotal people who helped along my pathso I'm now trying to be that change-maker for as many youth as possible. I look forward to coming to work every day."
Neighborhood: South Shore
Hometown: Born in Cincinnati, raised in Arkansas
Relationship status: Partnered with Aubrey Moultry
Job title; Associate director of youth programs, Center on Halsted
Hobbies: Basketball, science fiction, poetry, hip-hop music
Favorite musician: Omar
Favorite Chicago gay bar: Club Escape
Favorite Chicago restaurant: Big Bowl
Is an Eagle Scout; was once the president of Future Farmers of America; and is an ex-Mormon.
Photos by Ross Forman