It is a typical opening voiceover when examining a major city. Viewers hear those statements in opening scenes in “Stockton on My Mind” a documentary from HBO debuts on July 28. Stockton, Ca. is presented as one of the “worst of the worst.” The city was ground zero for the 2008 subprime mortgage meltdown and became the first major U.S. city to declare bankruptcy in the wake of the Great Recession.
“Who is going to be interested in Stockton,” said Marc Levin, producer/director of the film.
In a recent interview the award-winning filmmaker wondered where this movie would fit during a time when the focus would be on the Olympics and political primaries. The pandemic changed all of that.
“Now with the COVID-19 situation, with the new racial justice movement, and with the economic crisis, all of a sudden this movie has moved front and center,” continued Levin who has been at the helm of more than 20 projects with HBO.
How it Began
The draw for “Stockton on My Mind” is Mayor Michael Tubbs, Jr. who was 26 years old when he became one of the youngest mayors in America. Tubbs was born and raised in Stockton. He served on the Stockton city council before running for mayor. He is up for reelection this year. Tubbs is also in a group of millennial elected leaders who are intent on using their activism and education to make change starting back home where they were raised. That night in 2016 that Tubbs won the mayor’s race was the same night that President Donald Trump was elected.
“It was a direct conflict in what they were both running for,” said Tubbs’ wife Anna Malaika Nti-Asare Stanford, a Stanford University graduate where she met her husband.
When Tubbs was born his mother was 16 years old. For most of Tubbs’ life, his father has been incarcerated. Many of his best friends from childhood are either in prison or dead. Tubbs knows he is the exception. He received a full scholarship to Stanford. After graduating, he worked in the President Barack Obama administration. He met Oprah Winfrey who donated to his mayoral campaign. Tubbs says his success has been motivated by a central question.
“How in the world did I make it,” said Tubbs in the film at a Ted Talk presentation. “How do I empower other people with backgrounds like mine to upset the set up.”
A Day in the Life of a Mayor
The documentary follows Tubbs through his exhausting schedule. Meetings with his small staff in their small city government office space and walking the streets of Stockton offering services to the homeless is just the start. Town hall meetings are a necessary to meet with the diverse Stockton population. Meeting with corporate leaders to reinvest in Stockton is paramount to the city’s economic development.
It is visiting schools to be the example of what can be that energizes Tubbs. It is where he tells his story to kids. It is where he promotes his “Stockton Scholars” to provide money for kids to attend college. Tubbs received start-up funds for the “Scholars” program from his Stanford dorm hallmate Evan Spiegel, co-founder of Snapchat.
“I am no different than each and every one of you,” says Tubbs to a group of eighth graders. “Oppression exists. Things are just unfair, just unequal. Your ancestors conquered all of that and more. It is our responsibility to live out their wildest dreams and to be uncomfortable as well.”
Reality Check Yields Results
This documentary does not duck sad scenarios. There are penitentiary interviews with Tubbs’ father Michael Tubbs, Sr. Death by gun violence of a young man on the right path is heartbreaking. Juvenile detention of another student who had successfully applied for the “Stockton Scholars” program is not what you want to see.
The film also lifts up the mayor’s success with his Universal Basic Income program where private funds have been raised to give Stockton residents financial help for day-to-day needs. The program has been adopted by 15 mayors and Tubbs is founder of Mayors for a Guaranteed Income (MGI). Major corporations like Twitter are financial supporters to this initiative.
Overcoming systemic problems that all cities encounter is what this film delivers.
“What are the solutions? How do we break the school to prison pipeline, end mass incarceration, root out police violence and corruption? Levin asks. “How do we reform our criminal justice system and fundamentally change our economy to create a fairer distribution of the nation’s wealth?”
“Stockton on My Mind” has a game plan for those who have the heart to lead.
Link to “Stockton on My Mind” movie trailer: https://youtu.be/4nVqsNtOZOI