Former Stockton mayor Michael Tubbs on why he wants to end poverty
Michael Tubbs is the ex-mayor of Stockton in California.
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Michael Tubbs lived in Stockton as the son to a single mother and a prisoner father.
Tubbs was 31 years old and felt that he had to choose between death or prison in America if he wanted to live as a Black American man. He wrote this in his memoir “The Deeper The Roots.”
Tubbs escaped a grim future by being accepted at Stanford University. Following his graduation, he was elected to the Stockton City Council. When he became Stockton’s first Black mayor in 2017, and the youngest American mayor at 26, he blew away all expectations.
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Tubbs was in office when he created an experiment to guarantee income that paid $500 each month to certain residents. This program has been repeated in many other American cities. Tubbs also made it possible to assist other students in achieving their college goals.
But he was defeated in his 2020 bid for reelection. This defeat is detailed by him in his book.
CNBC.com caught up with Tubbs before he kicked off a virtual book tour featuring a Q&A with Oprah Winfrey, with whom he teamed up to publish the book.
Lorie Konish – Your story began with your mom saying “Don’t let anybody know our business.” Why are you writing a book to tell your story?
Michael Tubbs:I was a big fan of memoirs growing up. Especially memoirs that dealt with the passage from childhood to adulthood. Richard Wright’s Black Boy is what I remember. Nathan McCall’s “Makes Me Wanna Hool” and other songs are what I remember. Stockton’s unique childhood experiences, as well as being the first Black mayor, in Stockton. Being the youngest mayor ever in Stockton is a rare perspective that I thought was worthwhile to preserve while I still lived it.
LK: You hid the fact that your father was behind bars while you were growing-up. Why?
MT:Because I was afraid it might cause others to judge me and view my actions through that lense, I felt so ashamed. It was scary to think about what it would mean for my life and how I contributed to society. This was not something I wanted to see anyone make judgements about me and my family.
LK. You speak about the racism and condescending teachings you faced growing up in an educational environment. When you received acceptance to Stanford University, your expectations were defied. What changed your outlook after that Stanford University acceptance?
MT: I didn’t get along well with many of my teachers from kindergarten through high school. While they weren’t all racist, some of them absolutely were. I didn’t feel secure in the classroom. It felt like it was always a battle or struggle. It felt like my teachers wanted to make me feel better or get me out of my way. All of this was rejected by me.
It wasn’t until Stanford that I encountered the exact same issues I got in trouble for at high school. This was why I became a teacher’s pet and was why they wanted me to tutor them. They also wanted to write my recommendations. You valued someone that was curious and challenging. They also appreciated someone who wanted to discuss ideas and have discussions. Stanford’s greatest surprise was not that I got controlled in class. Instead, I became the teacher’s pet. The exact opposite happened in elementary school and high school.
LK: You were an intern at President Barack Obama’s White House when you learned that your cousin Donnell was shot and killed in Stockton. Was that what it was like? How does Donnell’s passing affect you now?
MT:It was quite jarring. It was difficult to deal with the pain, anger, grief and feeling helpless. This is despite being from privileges such as being at Stanford, Stanford, or Google. Thinking about the impact these events had on my life. Is this going to help anyone? This really made me think about what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
This pain, this anger, and my grief drove me into running for the city council. I still feel that same drive to do work around gun violence reduction. The pain was too real. And then I realized that Gun Violence is No. It was so real and visceral. The No. 1 cause of death for young Black men aged 14-25 in the United States is not cancer. I found it unacceptable and felt that I needed to make a change.
LK: You had serendipitous encounters with Oprah Winfrey, MC Hammer and others, which helped you financially when you ran for the city council. How was it?
MT:In the best possible way, it was completely random. This was confirmation, even though this seemed unlikely and even crazy, that I was doing what was best for me. You can’t plan for such things.
It is not in the plans of anyone to run for office. However, MC Hammer can give someone money for a seat on a local council. This just brought home the realization that there was more. This was larger than me, and it is bigger than my race. It came at crucial inflection points, when it was hard for me to believe that I had enough. Even 10 years later, I am still shocked, stunned, and surprised.
Michael Tubbs is pictured as a Stanford University graduate at 22 years old. As a member of the Stockton City Council and as Mayor, Tubbs worked tirelessly to improve Stockton.
Tribune News Service | Tribune News Service | Getty Images
LK: Are you still in contact with them?
MT:MC Hammer is only 30 minutes from Stockton. We’ve shared a few dinners together, and we have also texted. Now, I refer to him as Uncle Hammer.
Oprah had not been in touch with me since the day she read my book. Now we are having a great conversation about it.
LK. You tell how your mother felt on her final day using a check-cashing company. Comment did these services impact your family or the Stockton area?
MT:You’ll find cashing places in Stockton. Because of the way that paychecks work you will get 15 dollars.ThThe 31It is possible toYour bills must be paid by the 12ThOder the 10.Th. My mom had to visit check-cashing locations, not because her money was scarce, but because the amount she needed wasn’t available on the due date. She would have to wait two days for her paycheck. It was that experience that really made me passionate about economic security.
LK. Did this contribute to your idea of the guaranteed income experiment
MT:Thinking about how my mom would use the money and what would it do to my mom’s ability to provide for me and my brother, led me to believe in basic income.
LK: Which lessons can you draw from guaranteed income today?
MT:Before dignity can be attached to people, it must first be attached to them. The dignity you give to others is part of who we are. This is a huge lesson. This idea of time is important. Money is a proxy for authority and agency. So it’s important to have control over your time and be in charge of what you do. You can also trust others. Trust them to take the best decisions for you and your family.
LK: Education is a major part of what you have done for the community. Why do you place such emphasis on education?
MT:Personal experience is also a factor. It’s amazing how my four-year Stanford experience has prepared me for the job I do now. My horizons widened, my mind expanded, and I found my spouse. I also learned critical thinking. I learned to be a challenger. I was able to tap into a support network. It’s enabled me to return to my local community. It’s amazing to consider the power of critical thinking and education to create the change we want in our community, our state, and the nation.
MT:Stockton needs a mayor who isn’t afraid to do hard things and believes that everyone belongs in the city. This will make Stockton a better place.
LK. Are you planning to create an anti-poverty campaign?
MT:End Poverty in California is an anti-poverty effort. It involves using every tool at our disposal from policy, art, research, piloting, media, policy, policy, policy, art, research, and other means to raise the problem of poverty to the top of the list of issues Californians must address and to get the political will. We’re going to be releasing a policy paper in January because I love policy. And then, there’s more.
LK: California is the best?
MT:California is known as the Golden State. The state has so many resources and so many possibilities, yet it has the highest rate of poverty in America. This seems to be antithetical our state’s values. The nation will also be affected by California’s departure. As we have seen, it is difficult to get things done at a national level. It’s possible to organize the state and make things happen.
LK. How was this idea born?
MT:My obsession with ending poverty has been my whole life. This is where guaranteed income works. After I lost the election it was like “What are you going to do?” This issue is still important to me. It’s still very important. This issue is worth the risk. It is worth trying again.
LK: Which moments have brought you greatest satisfaction?
MT:It is amazing that 60 mayors have signed up for Mayors For A Guaranteed Income. It was me when I first started. In this country there was only one mayor who could guarantee income. Now, there are 60. Stockton Scholars students are incredibly proud to be part of this program. They are receiving scholarships for either four or two years, or to trade school. These kids speak beautifully about the community, how to give back, and the ways they can continue to help and serve. They are both hopeful, enthusiastic, happy, laughing, and growing every single day. These are the things that give me hope.