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HBO’s ‘Stockton on My Mind’ features a young mayor at the helm of a struggling city

Michael Tubbs, Mayor of Stockton, is seen at his office in Stockton, California on February 7, 2020. With the help of the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, Tubbs implemented an 18-month trial of Universal Basic Income for 125 residents of his city. The scoffed-at idea of paying everyone a basic income as machines take people’s jobs… Nick Otto/AFP via Getty Images)

Directly post-commencement, most college grads are sussing out their next move, whether that means finding a desk job or continuing their education even further. For Michael Tubbs, it was a different story altogether.

After graduating from Stanford University in 2012 on a full ride scholarship, Tubbs returned to his hometown of Stocktown, Calif., to mourn the loss of his young cousin who was shot to death — his stay extended indefinitely when he decided to run for, and won, a seat as the city’s youngest ever councilmember at the age of 22. At the age of 26, Tubbs was elected as mayor of the city and has been scrutinized ever since, whether it be because of his age or the controversial decisions he’s made since stepping up to the plate. 

Now, HBO is giving viewers an intimate look into Mayor Michael Tubbs’s personal life and the community of Stockton with a new documentary called, “Stockton on My Mind,” which is free to view for all nonsubscribers from now until Sept. 21 of this year. 

“I’m so proud of the way it tells the story of the city, it tells the story of my family, it tells stories of mass incarceration and the school-to-prison pipeline and basic income in a way that doesn’t make people victims,” Tubbs tells Changing America. “I think even for those of us who are living in Stockton…the tacit knowledge that your story matters, that your story is a national story and is important enough to be told to the country, has everyone sitting up a little bit taller.”

Directed by Marc Levin, “Stockton on My Mind” chronicles the personal and political journey of the young Tubbs, from his journey to become the youngest and first Black mayor of Stockton to his upbringing as the child of a single mother with an incarcerated father. It also shows that even the most inspiring trajectories like that of Mayor Tubbs’ isn’t lined with gold, even after receiving campaign contributions from Oprah Winfrey and endorsements from President Barack Obama.

The young mayor has been subject to vocal criticism for a universal basic income (UBI) program he piloted in 2019, with many critics bashing the politician for what they consider to be giving money away, asserting that a UBI would facilitate laziness among citizens. In reality, the mayor was moved to pilot the unconventional solution after realizing that nearly 40 percent of Americans cannot afford $400 for an unexpected emergency expense.

The documentary features an interesting peek into the criticism Tubbs has encountered throughout his term, as well as the unique, community-based programs he has brought to the city over the past couple years — from a scholarship program he pioneered for local high school alumni planning to enroll in a four-year university to a mentorship program aimed at lowering the rate of gun violence in the city. 

Indeed, Stockton is called out in the documentary as “one of the poorest, most violent, least literate cities in the nation,” and much of the documentary is focused not only on the life and pursuits of Tubbs, but also on the personal stories of other Stockton residents. 

These cameos are what help bring the city to life for the viewer, as we empathize and root for the people of Stockton — young, promising high school students, reformed criminals-turned-mentors and even Tubbs’ own father, who the mayor tells us wasn’t originally supposed to make an appearance in the documentary. 

“I’ve always wanted to love this city of Stockton, and the city didn’t love me back,” says an emotional Raymond Aguilar, a Senior Youth Advisor. “As a kid at 8 years old I was already inside the foster care, juvenile hall system. By the time I was 15 I was already being tried as an adult and sent to prison. I ended up spending 26 years in the penitentiary, and so the system raised me when I wanted my city to love me.”

“Stockton on My Mind” is available to watch on HBO Max for free until Sept. 21.