If you see him, he’s probably smiling. And as Tim Hunt moves through the Monson Dining Center, his broad shoulders sway, his light-wash denims tucked into black Converse shoes.
“I’ve always kind of had an ‘I’m here’ walk,” he says trotting out of the DC, practically cutting through the air as he moves forward. His confident persona is far from lost on the Bethel community.
“He is an excellent at communication and not afraid to start relationships and conversations with new people,” says Patrick Bentz, Executive Director of the Underground.
A relational communications major, Hunt also serves as the coordinator of Bethel Teens, a mentorship program that connects Bethel students with inner-city teens from St. Paul; Underground Programming committee member, the same group that brought Ben Rector here in November and most recently created the “DC in the Dark” event this Spring, and finished a season as a head coach of a Mounds View 7th grade basketball team.
As Tim talks, he’s hunched over with his hand firmly under his chin, untangling thoughts as they come out of his mouth. He’s confident, sure, but that persona is betrayed momentarily as verbally processes his life. It’s a story of triumph, but it’s also a story of death, struggle, and suffering.
‘I remember crying my eyes out’
Timothy Jared Hunt was born in Chicago in January 1994. He’s never met his dad, and the two sides of his mom’s family lived in either Chicago or rural Mississippi. After the sudden murder of Tim’s youngest uncle, his family quickly took refuge to rural Mississippi with his mom Sheila and sister Latisha, where they began to start a new life.
Hunt grew up on a long gravel road in the country, the kind where most homes are thousands of feet between each other. From the very beginning, Tim found himself caught up in a family tree that valued family loyalty, even if it meant fighting a fight that he didn’t begin.
“That’s just the way it goes,” he says, “You roll with your family, that’s your squad. You go to my town and say my last name. What are we known for? Fighting, drug dealing and sports. That’s like all we did.”
Meanwhile at home, his mom Sheila struggled with a drug abuse that damaged the family dynamic. Tim remembers seeing his mom leave and thinking it would be for days. At times, she would be gone for weeks.
Tim vividly remembers the anger welling up one time as she was leaving.
“I remember screaming at her… “Just go, I don’t want you here anymore,”” Tim says, ‘I just remember crying my eyes out. It hurt so bad to see her prioritize drugs over me.”
In fifth grade, Tim’s mom was arrested for drug possession and imprisoned for 30 days. For weeks, Tim returned home from school to an empty house. Tish had moved back up to Chicago. His mom was in prison. His grandma was next door, but every day he got off the bus with an unwavering hope that his mom would show up.
“I would just scream, “Mama! Mom!” [when] she’s not even there,” said Tim, “I knew she wasn’t coming back, but something inside of me hoped that maybe that day would be the day… I didn’t miss a day.”
‘The good stage of life’
Tim’s mouth cracks open a smile and his eyes widen as he shares what happened next. He vividly remembers the day his mom returned from prison. He returned home off the bus and went to his mom’s house first. When he saw that she wasn’t there, he went back to his grandma next door. She shooed him away, telling him his mama was back. He sprinted back.
“She was hiding, and she was like, ‘Boo!’” says Tim, “She was smiling, and we hugged… there was no animosity, none of that.”
From that point on, Tim’s mom Sheila began to recover. She would relapse occasionally, but it felt like a turning point for Tim, who witnessed her drug abuse throughout his whole childhood. She started going to all his football games and picked up a 9-to-5 job at a local fast-food restaurant to make ends meet.
“ I literally didn’t care where she worked. As long as she wasn’t on the streets, it was fine by me.”
Some weeks, the paychecks wouldn’t line up and Tim and his mom went without electricity. Tim remembers stretching an extension cord from his grandma’s house next door. They plugged in the essentials: fridge, TV, and a lamp.
Sound bleak? Not to Tim.
“If you turn on Lifetime now, I can tell you 80% of the movies. That’s all we watched,” says Hunt before adding Mash, Walker Texas Ranger, and 7th Heaven to the list, “That was in the good stage of life. Obviously not everything was perfect, but it was just us. We were a family, that’s all that mattered honestly.”
'I got to rewrite my story'
Tim showed up in Saint Paul during his junior year of high school. His mom had relapsed while Tim was finishing middle school. She was arrested for drug trafficking and spent four years in prison. It was a critical point for Tim, who enrolled in Como Park High School for his junior year in 2010 and took on a job at the local Byerly’s. It was a whole new world.
“Think about leaving everything you’ve known to be common and starting over from square one. I didn’t know where the bus stop was. I hadn’t even rode the bus before.”
He immediately joined JROTC program there, ready for a new start.
“I sold my phone to get a haircut for that day,” says Tim, “I went to the pawn shop, sold my phone, just so I’d look presentable for JROTC first day.”
He quickly shot up the ranks in the program under Major Foley. His leadership was recognized both by his superiors and those under his leadership.
“He has what the Marine Corps call persuasive leadership,” says Ger Lor, former JROTC member and current Combat Engineer for the U.S. Marine Corps, “He was able to mentor and guide cadets to do better. He also brought new ideas to have a family-like environment.”
A few years later, Tim came to Bethel on Major Foley’s prompting. Although he’s about to finish his junior year, he admits he couldn’t have prepared for idiosyncrasies of college life.
“I cried so much freshman year,” says Tim, “First week, I thought I didn’t know anything… no computer, no money… just trying to get by. I never negated the fact that I’m going to struggle.”
Tim references Cornell West when he talks about “subversive joy,” or a joy that transcends circumstance. And though he’s mostly hidden his atypical story from the Bethel community, his closest friends know that his joy is weathered and his smile comes first from brokenness.
Maybe that’s what makes him so compelling.
“He brings a spark of life, a fresh perspective, and a humbling attitude about the world,” notes Bentz, “He sees the world differently than most people due to his past experiences. He understands more fully the privilege of living at this school. His expectations are not the same as many people who take [it] for granted.”
“I’ve seen him go through ups and downs,” says Lor, “And every time he came face to face with an obstacle or a hardship in his life, he always found the way to get back up. I think he’s learned to never give up. And that’s why I think he’s the person he is today.”