Interview with Michael Tubbs, Youngest-Ever and First African American Mayor of Stockton

Mayor Michael Tubbs recently spoke with Philanthropy California in preparation for an upcoming Stockton Reinvention Tour for funders. Mayor Tubbs was elected in 2016 in a landslide victory with 70% of the vote. Since then, Stockton has become the second most fiscally-healthy city in the state and has innovated new programs like a basic universal income pilot, which guarantees a monthly income of $500 to a segment of Stockton residents, and Advance Peace, which is a gun violence prevention program that pays those most likely to commit gun-related crimes.

Tell us about your family. What it was like growing up in Stockton and how has that shaped who you are today?


Growing up in Stockton I was very thankful. We struggled a lot financially but I was given a lot of opportunity. I was provided the chance to participate in afterschool programs and other enrichment experiences. I have so many good memories of my basketball couches and pastors. I felt supported. I was part of a village, with my family, nonprofits, and the city. I found a bridge that allowed me to be able to go from living in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Stockton to being able to attend Stanford.


What are you most proud of in being the Mayor of Stockton?


One of the things I am most proud of is getting letters from college students saying how they can’t wait to come back to Stockton. They want to participate in the renaissance. When I was growing up, the story was about wanting to leave. That’s changed within just a few years. We’ve been able to change the narrative. Young people now want to come back and contribute. What's changed is that we've created things like the Stockton Scholars Program. We are investing in our children's future. They are getting the message ‘my city believes in me and my dream, and wants to invest in me.’ I think it's that they see that I did it. ‘He was like us, and I can do that as well.’


What is your vision for the city?


My vision for the city is two-fold: 1. Be a community of opportunity for everyone especially the most marginalized, and 2. Be a solution city, where people can see that we have come together to solve our problems.


What do you see as the opportunity for philanthropy in Stockton?


Philanthropy is a huge partner for Stockton. They help us scale and catalyze the changes we are making. They help us to take risks and test ideas to help make things better. Philanthropy is a partner with us on things like the basic income demonstration, Advance Peace, and have helped us create a top-notch cradle to career continuum of supports for our residents. Philanthropy is building  the capacity of our nonprofit organizations to take our policy ideas to scale.


With so many initiatives underway and competing interests underway, how do you decide what to take up and what to set aside? 


It's a function of the moment and priority. We operate from what we call an opportunity agenda. We ask, how do we increase opportunity in Stockton. Right now, violent crime reduction is the top priority.


Where do you hope to be five years from now?


As far as education, I would like to see a 10% increase in A-G readiness for our high school students. I would also like to see a significant decrease in shootings and homicides.


What’s it like being the subject of high-visibility national media coverage like CBS This Morning, NPR, and The Daily Show?


It's an awesome responsibility. It's really a reminder that the stuff we are doing matters. People around the country are looking at Stockton. It reminds me that the public is hungry for leadership that speaks to the real issues of the community.


What’s the best thing you’ve read in the past 12 months?


Two books that I've read lately that have had a big impact on me are White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson and Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Michael Desmond.


If you could go back in time, what bit of advice would you give to yourself on the first day of taking office?


I would tell myself to sleep more.


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