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Dispatches from the Moth · Posted On: Mar 19, 2019

The MOTHerview with Storyteller Tim King

by Suzanne Rust

Tim King 2

“I had one dream, but was called to fulfill another that I didn’t even know was there…until I opened my eyes and looked.”

Tim discovers that sometimes it’s good to push your best-laid plans aside for the unexpected.

How did you know that this was the story you had to tell?

The story I wanted to tell originally was about an amazing colleague and friend named Robert Hoderny who tragically died. As I discussed this with The Moth producer Sarah Austin Jenness, she asked me in what ways Robert had influenced me. I told her that one really big way was that he was the person who had first pointed Keith out to me. That led me to share with her about Keith. When I finally stopped talking, Sarah said something like “Tim, are you sure that’s not your story?” She was absolutely right.

You come from a very privileged upbringing. How do you think that it informed the work that you do at Urban Prep Academies?

It has never seemed fair to me that people, due to nothing but luck (good or bad), are born into certain situations. Some folks are born into great privilege and others incredible despair. None of us can change the situation anyone is born into, but we can help people lead fulfilling and happy lives. The way I try to do that is through the educational opportunities we provide at Urban Prep.   

Originally, you say that you viewed running a school and teaching as a stepping-stone towards your bigger plan, a political career.  At which point did the work awaken something deeper in you, or inspire you?

I don’t know that there was a precise moment when I “got it.” As corny as it sounds, it was a process or evolution. There’s a great line in one of the songs from the musical “Once on This Island” sung by a mother to her adopted daughter: New dreams are everywhere…Choose your dreams with care. People get so obsessed with pursuing their one dream by any means necessary and think that not to do so equals failure or defeat. But sometimes, we need to recognize that new dreams are everywhere and pursue those dreams to which the universe is directing us as opposed to the ones we perhaps did not choose with care. That’s what I think has happened to me. I had one dream but was called to fulfill another that I didn’t even know was there…until I opened my eyes and looked.

(And do you still want to be President?)

I wouldn’t say no to the job!

Initially you said that your approach to Keith was more hands off, “stay in your world and I’ll stay in mine,” yet when he eventually asked if you could be his dad, something clicked. Talk a little bit more about that moment as you remember it.

I remember we were in my car and we had just been discussing where he would be staying for the next few days. And he asked, rather exasperatedly, “Why can’t I just stay with you? Why can’t you be my dad?” It was kind of like an out of body experience because I was having all these different types of feelings and thoughts, and playing out all these scenarios in my head, but of course it couldn’t have been more than a couple seconds before I answered him. I can still see that moment and remember the topsy-turvy feeling in my gut when he asked. I can also remember answering him and then feeling all that anxiety, apprehension and doubt leave me like a giant weight had been lifted. Of course, that only lasted a few seconds too because once my brain took back the reigns from my heart, I started freaking-out all over again!

What has been the best thing about being Keith’s dad?

The best part about being his dad is the constant reminder that we can all change the world through changing people’s lives. I’ve changed his life and he as changed mine. It’s a precious and rare thing to be able to have that in your life.

What is Keith up to these days, and what’s your current relationship like?

He worked at Urban Prep for a few years but is now off pursuing his passion in music as an artist representative. He’s always threatening to come back to Urban Prep, but we’ll see. I keep telling him to choose his dreams with care!

Who are your favorite storytellers and why?

When it comes to The Moth, I tend to sob and/or LOL at every story I hear, so all of those storytellers are favs. Outside of The Moth, my maternal grandmother’s stories always gripped me the most—funny, complex and absolutely true (or so she always said). She lived a rich life and knew how to talk about it. Comedians might not immediately come to most people’s minds when thinking about storytellers, but Chris Rock and John Mulaney are a couple who are able to make me feel like I am right there with them in the hilarious stories they tell. Then of course, in literature, I have to shout-out J.K. Rowling for her beautiful and intricate Harry Potter books (I often refer to Urban Prep as “Hogwarts in the ‘hood”). THAT’S some bomb storytelling!

What’s your motto?

The Urban Prep motto is We Believe, so it gets a lot of the attention, but my personal motto which really guides my life is, See a Need and Fill It.

What did it mean for you to be able to share your story on the Moth stage?

A day or two before I was to tell the story, I called Sarah Austin Jenness at The Moth and canceled. I told her that while I loved public speaking, I just didn’t think that standing in front of a group of strangers and telling a very intimate and personal story was my sort of thing. She talked me off the ledge and the rest is history! It was an incredible experience particularly because Keith and my parents were in the audience when I told the story. What a privilege it was to be able to share with Keith how much he has changed my life and thank him in that very public, yet personal way.

Please finish this sentence: Storytelling is important because…

…it reminds us we are not alone.

For more on Tim King, follow him on Twitter and Facebook; for more information on Urban Prep, visit

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