By Austin Block
Senior Michael Tubbs reflects on his time at Stanford and his plans for the future
At 10 p.m. on a Wednesday night, Michael Tubbs ’12 sits behind a computer in the Black Community Services Center, working and occasionally checking Facebook.
Standing next to him is a portable whiteboard with an essay outline. After turning in the essay, Tubbs erases the board and fills it once more with his thoughts. He writes most of his papers about how to fix the problems plaguing his hometown, Stockton, Calif., which Forbes called “America’s most miserable city.”
Stockton faces looming bankruptcy, an unemployment rate of 16.6 percent, a failing education system and a high homicide rate. According to ABC News, 56 people were murdered in Stockton last year alone.
To help fix these problems and reinvigorate Stockton, Tubbs decided to run for City Council, declaring his candidacy on Feb. 20 of this year. The election will take place on June 15.
“I don’t like politics–I like impact,” Tubbs said. “I like making a difference for people, and the best way to do that in Stockton now, in my opinion, is through the political system.
“When I was thinking about what I wanted to do post-Stanford, to me it was really important to do something that might not be glamorous or easy, but I could go to bed at night thinking, ‘I’m doing something that’s making a difference,’” he added.
Tubbs said a long train of experiences led him to his decision to enter the political fray. His long involvement in community efforts in Stockton remained strong throughout his years at Stanford.
As a rising sophomore, he founded a youth advocacy group, Save Our Stockton, in the summer of 2009 with some friends. In May of his sophomore year, five murders in Stockton stirred him to found the Stockton Summer Success and Leadership Academy to help stem violence in the area.
During the fall of 2010, Tubbs worked at the White House under senior adviser Valerie Jarrett researching the most effective practices implemented by mayors and city councils around the United States to solve problems similar to those faced by Stockton.
Then, in November, Stockton’s struggles hit Tubbs on a more personal level when his cousin was murdered. He was not satisfied by the community and political response to the homicide.
“I was looking at the response from the person elected to represent my district, and it just was lackluster in my opinion,” he said. “I just saw the need, the lack of hope.”
Recently, Tubbs has returned home on a weekly basis to campaign, chat with members of the community and make his weekly Saturday walk through the district. His home is campaign headquarters, and his family, after some initial trepidation, strongly supports his campaign.
Cameron Henry ’12, Tubbs’ close friend, campaign marketing director and student organizer, said Tubbs’ engagement with the community makes him a strong candidate.
“[You can tell he is a good candidate by] looking at the man and the love he has shown for the town,” Henry said. “Literally every paper and every class he’s taken have been looking at how he can help Stockton.”
“I think he has the natural talent and charisma, as well as a real vision of what he’s trying to accomplish,” said Jim Steyer, a comparative studies in race and ethnicity (CSRE) lecturer who has worked closely with Tubbs.
Heading into his last quarter of his senior year, Tubbs said he hasn’t had much time for nostalgia. He’s simply been too busy.
In addition to running for city council and completing his bachelor’s degree in CSRE, he is working toward his co-terminal master’s degree in policy, organization and leadership studies, serving as a Resident Assistant (RA) in Ujamaa and running his various programs and initiatives.
These include the Phoenix Scholars Program, a program he founded in March 2010 that provides college counseling and mentorship to over-200 low-income, first generation and/or minority high school students.
“Today I looked at the Oval, and I [thought] ‘Yo, this is so pretty!’’’ he said. “It was the first time I had stopped to do that…I think I’m just going to get really sad in June. [Stanford] has been home.”
Although Tubbs regrets the lack of time he has had to reflect on his Stanford experience, he continues to pile his schedule with new activities. Instead of taking time off to relax over spring break or head home to campaign, he led a civil rights-focused Alternative Spring Break (ASB) service trip to Washington D.C.
“[Going on the trip] makes no sense in the middle of the campaign, but hey, this is what we do,” he said.
Even though he immerses himself in multiple activities, Tubbs still has time for fun. He has even missed classes to coach the Ujamaa basketball team in intramural playoffs and makes sure to find time to go out on the weekends.
While he is confident and optimistic about his City Council bid, Tubbs said he is concerned with keeping his energy, identity and commitment to the community admidst what he sees as the murkiness of politics.
“I’m not a politician; I’m a public servant,” he said. “I don’t want to be one of those public servants who sound great on the campaign trail, but then sit there and occupy space.”
He hopes to stay focused by setting aside time to interact with members of his community, particularly by taking time out of his schedule to read to Stockton children.
“If you’re only talking to political people, you lose sight of the regular people, the people you are doing it for,” he said. “Talking to kids, playing with kids, reading to kids, working with groups, just having tea with someone–that’s what gives me energy.”
If elected, Tubbs says his priorities will be threefold: to promote public safety, to stimulate economic development and to jumpstart Stockton’s floundering education system, which Stockton parents call a “dead end.”
He believes an important step in combating all three of these problems is to promote civic pride in Stockton.
“When you have a city that’s been kicked down almost as the black sheep of California, hope and civic pride is a huge thing that’s lacking,” Tubbs said. “In situations like these, government can’t solve everything. It takes communal sacrifice, communal love and civic pride.”
According to Tubbs, citizens of Stockton who have never before been involved in politics are walking, donating and running phone banks to support him. In the first three weeks of the campaign, he collected $8,000 in donations.
“I feel like we’re starting to fire up a lot of the home base and other people in Stockton who haven’t been engaged in local government in a long time,” Henry said.
When asked who inspires him, Tubbs lists his mother, his aunt, his grandmother and historical figures such as the Freedom Riders. But above all, Tubbs said he is inspired by the children of Stockton.
“We did a lesson in our summer program about the Freedom Riders…and then a week later there was a shooting and one of the kids posted on Facebook, ‘I don’t care if I get beaten, I don’t care if I get stomped on, I don’t care if I get spit on. Just like the Freedom Riders, I’m going to make a change in my community,’” Tubbs said.
Two weeks ago, in the middle of finals week, Tubbs went home to participate in a reading event at two local elementary schools. He was shocked by the familiarity the children had with violence.
“I read a book about Martin Luther King…towards the end, when he gets shot, it was actually harrowing in a way because almost every kid in that room knew someone that was shot, like it was normal, like ‘Oh, my uncle got shot in the head,’” he said.
Yet Tubbs left feeling inspired after having an emotional talk with the children about their dreams.
“They said, ‘I dream of a community with no guns, with no violence, with no bad people, with more cops,’” he said. “Even a six-year-old understands that it’s time to reinvent Stockton and change course.”