Stanford alum Michael Tubbs’ Stockton is on the rise in HBO documentary

By

Stockton, CA’s first Black mayor and Stanford graduate Michael Tubbs (BA ’12 Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (CSRE)) is one of the many roses that grow from Stockton concrete. As a native of Stockton, specifically South Stockton, it felt surreal to see my own home featured on national TV last week. “Stockton On My Mind,” directed by Emmy winner Marc Levin, premiered on Tuesday, July 28. The HBO documentary follows America’s youngest mayor of a major city on his journey — both political and intensely personal — to implement change in the city of Stockton and to revitalize and heal its youth.

Earlier this year, Stockton was ranked one of the worst places for child opportunity based on a study from Brandeis University. Many Stockton youth are first-generation students, and we are healing from the intergenerational anxiety our ancestors have combatted our whole lives. Many children of Stockton are sons and daughters of immigrants and farmworkers. There’s a reason why Tubbs in this documentary has so much hope for the youth: he knows from firsthand experience that the future of Stockton is within us.

Levin’s documentary showcases Michael Tubbs’ story as a son born in Stockton to a teen mother and incarcerated father.  Even though Tubbs grew up in a low income, single-parent household in Southeast Stockton, he did not let these barriers come in the way of his education. He is a passionate writer, and has even gotten his work published at The San Francisco Chronicle. Tubbs attended Hamilton Middle School, graduated Franklin High School with an IB (International Baccalaureate) Diploma and went to Stanford on a need-based scholarship, eventually running for city council his senior year.  The film features Tubbs’ main projects to help the people of Stockton, recalling the Reinvent Stockton Foundation including programs such as Advance Peace, Stockton Scholars and his testing of Universal Basic Income

“Be the change you wish to see in the world,” Tubbs quoted Mahatma Gandhi to middle school students at Marshall Elementary School in South Stockton, CA in a college readiness workshop. Stockton Scholars was launched by Tubbs in January 2018 alongside Stockton Unified District board member Lange Luntao to push for a college culture in Stockton. Encouraging students to pursue higher education, they offer workshops and teach seminars to high school students about the college application process, financial aid and mental health awareness. The program also offers scholarships to seniors that will be attending 2 and 4-year universities in the area. Advance Peace is another program that advocates for reducing gun violence with mentorships, workshops and community service. 

Stories from people all over Eastside’s Wilson Way to Southside’s Eighth Street are shown giving their experiences as Stocktonians. Raymond Aguilar, Senior Youth Organizer at Fathers and Families of San Joaquin and mentor at Advance Peace, has been system impacted since the age of six, being in and out of jail cells and foster homes. Southside Stockton Edison High School alums Rogelio “Junior” Vivero, Joy Almendarez, Isaiah Evans and Kendra Banks feature prominently as members of the inaugural Class of 2019 Stockton Scholars. Junior is a first-generation student-photographer attending San Joaquin Delta College who became one of the first ambassadors of the program. Joy is a teen mother, determined to attend college while raising her son, defying all odds. Isaiah Evans and Kendra Banks are both exceptional student-athletes, with the latter attending Shaw University. 

Downtown Stockton was prominently featured in the documentary. Images courtesy of Rogelio “Junior” Vivero.

“Stockton On My Mind” gives viewers the idea that this city really teaches people that there is always light after times of darkness. We see this in scenes featuring the Southside’s Skidrow, where homelessness and gang violence are high. The cinematography adopts the same vibrant colors and shading as Skidrow for neighborhoods with colorful pools and beautiful, petite red-colored homes. The film is symbolic, where most of the geographical locations are shot in birds-eye view high up above the ground to masterfully show its viewers how Stockton as a whole is ‘coming up’ in terms of change. 

With Mayor Tubbs also being a millennial, the use of social media in his political agenda has always been a major part of his community outreach. That dozens of Stocktonians were live-tweeting their reactions to the HBO documentary on Tuesday night is case-in-point. 

Jeselle De Leon, a junior at Bear Creek High School in North Stockton, tweeted while watching the documentary this Tuesday, “It gave me a little more info as to what Tubbs is really doing…He’s seen the struggle of growing up in Stockton and now he’s really trying to fix it…trying to get kids to be more passionate about school, going to college, and hopefully returning back to Stockton to pay it forward[.]”

Many of Stockton’s injustices have always been systemic and intergenerational, and Edison High School junior Aleksandur Chanachai has never failed to realize that. He notes that this documentary showcases to the world what is occurring in Stockton, and is proud despite the “homelessness rates rising and violence…[he is] seeing people blossom in something better.” 

“#StocktonOnMyMind has me so emotional,” said Christine, a South Stockton Conway native, who has recently graduated from San Francisco State University and is now working as a Business Manager in Sacramento, CA.


Left: Live-instagram story reaction by Dr. Janay M. Garrett, University of Pennsylvania. Right: Live-tweet reaction by Christine(@christinectrl) after the release of the documentary.

This documentary features multiple segments of Twitter replies on Major Tubbs’ timeline along with DMs from Recall Effort supporters and retweets from 209 Times, a social media geared-news outlet based in Central Valley’s San Joaquin County (particularly Stockton). 209 Times, run by Motecuzoma P. Sanchez — candidate for the 2014 Stockton City Council and 2020 Mayor— along with members of the Recall Effort, have been known to be very critical of Mayor Tubbs and select city council members

Watching the story of “Soul Vikes” coming from the high school I play volleyball for, elementary schools where my longtime friends and I went and the sidewalks I spent my entire childhood on, stirred up strong feelings of admiration. Levin’s documentary has enabled me to watch the process of gradual change that has taken years to unfold within an hour and a half. It comes from everyday Stocktonians like Joy Almendarez and her son, who teach us to be strong for others who look up to us; Junior Vivero, who reminds us to see rather than capture the beauty in the struggle and Mayor Tubbs, who inspire us to pursue our ancestors’ wildest dreams and give back to the community. 

“209 photographers will tell you I know a spot and will take you to Downtown Stockton, because there’s nowhere else to go.” Photo and caption courtesy of Kenneth Caslib.

Stockton On My Mind” is available on demand on HBO Max/Now. 

Contact Karlaine Francisco at itskarlaine ‘at’ gmail.com.

While you're here...

We're a student-run organization committed to providing hands-on experience in journalism, digital media and business for the next generation of reporters. Your support makes a difference in helping give staff members from all backgrounds the opportunity to develop important professional skills and conduct meaningful reporting. All contributions are tax-deductible.


Get Our EmailsDigest

Karlaine Francisco is a high school student writing as part of The Stanford Daily's Summer Journalism Workshop.