In a short span of time, life has already come full circle for Michael Tubbs. He left his hometown of Stockton, California—30 minutes south of Sacramento—and a difficult home life to attend Stanford University. After graduation, he came back home as the prodigal son, intent on lifting his hometown out of years of turbulence—first as city council member and now mayor, among the youngest in the country.
Before all this—before an early career in public service garnered the attention of President Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey; before Stanford University; before the scholarships and accolades—he was a student at Franklin High School, where he graduated with an International Baccalaureate diploma.
For Tubbs, the opportunity to attend a private, nonprofit university gave him access to tremendous resources in an environment of excellence, which allowed him to push himself to the limit and be innovative. This opportunity was made possible, in large part, thanks to the Cal Grant program.
“[The] Cal Grant [program] offer[s] access and opportunity, especially for folks who have been historically left out,” said Tubbs, who was a first-generation college student.
While at Stanford, Tubbs was determined to make the most of his time in college. He became an advocate of access to higher education for underrepresented students. He founded the Phoenix Scholars, a nonprofit based out of Stanford that provides pro-bono college counseling services, and co-founded the Summer Success and Leadership Academy at the University of the Pacific campus, which focuses on social justice and leadership among high school students. Ultimately, Tubbs graduated with a baccalaureate in Comparative Studies and a master’s degree in Policy, Leadership and Organization Studies. He was also a Truman Scholar, and recipient of the Lloyd W. Dinkelspiel award.
For other students in college, and those who plan to attend, Tubbs said he would advise them to not only work hard in school and cherish the college experience, but also to think about how they can have a deep impact on the communities in which they live and study.
Heeding his own advice, Tubbs came back to the troubled city he left and ran for city council in 2012. He beat out an incumbent and became the youngest city councilmember in city history. Four years later at the age of 26, he ran against the embattled mayor and won, becoming the first African American mayor in Stockton history, and youngest mayor of a city with a population of at least 100,000 in U.S. history.
As Stockton’s mayor, he is working to reinvent the city into a “community of opportunity for everyone” by reducing violent crime, increasing economic development, building collective impact strategies, and partnering with school districts to improve the city’s education. Tubbs says the driving force behind his work is his desire to create opportunities and positive outcomes for the community in which he was born and raised.
As a public servant, he championed the creation of the City’s Office of Violence Prevention, founded the Reinvent South Stockton Coalition, and led the South Stockton Promise Zone planning efforts. Tubbs also served as a college course instructor for Aspire Langston Hughes Academy and as a fellow and lecturer at Stanford’s Design School.
In addition to the rigorous education Tubbs received from Stanford, it was also his personal experiences—including an internship at the White House—and exposure to the challenges that the city of Stockton faces that brought him to his current role as the city’s mayor. Tubbs added that it helped that he did not graduate with many student loans to repay.
While his path has brought him back home to serve his community, Tubbs said his future plans are not set in stone.
“I’m not beholden to political office,” he said, “as long as my work intersects with the issues I care about.”