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'Stockton on My Mind' shows mayor's hopes for ailing city

Walk into the Stockton, Calfornia, city offices and you might hear Drake’s “God’s Plan” coming from the mayor’s office. There, Mayor Michael Tubbs could be bobbing his head to the lyrics, “I can’t do this one my own, ayy, no, ayy.” Outside those walls sits one of the poorest, least literate communities in the nation.

And yet there’s nowhere else this 30-year-old Stanford University graduate would rather find himself, even amid the hate and ridicule critics throw at him. “Stockton on My Mind,” a new HBO documentary available to stream for free beginning Friday, dives into the dreams of this unlikely mayor who defied odds in 2016 to lead his impoverished city. The son of a single mother and a father serving time in prison, Tubbs defeated Republican incumbent Anthony Silva to become the community’s youngest and first Black mayor. That same night Donald Trump shocked the nation and won the presidency.

Tubbs immediately shot to national stardom among depressed liberals who sought new, bold ideas to fight poverty, violence and educational inequality. And it was those bold ideas that garnered praise and scorn.

Soon after taking office, the film illustrates how Tubbs attracted private funds to experiment with a basic income plan that critics dismissively called “free money” for the poor. He organized former prison inmates to keep peace among gangs and got more private donations to provide scholarships to the city’s poor high school students. It’s all about empowering others to “upset the setup,” he explained.

“It’s interesting. It feels like we’ve been moving forward while the country is moving backward,” Tubbs told The Associated Press on a recent weekday after taking a COVID-19 test. (It was negative.) “We’re definitely not perfect. We have a lot of work to do.”

In the film, Tubbs must also focus on his marriage to Albuquerque, New Mexico-born scholar Anna Malaika Nti-Asare-Tubb and their new baby. And he has unresolved matters with his father, Michael Tubbs Sr., a former gang member, some called a “monster,” who is trying to connect with his son.

Initially, the mayor turned down director Marc Levin’s offer to follow him around to document his life during his time in the city council. But then Tubbs agreed after Levin vowed he wanted to make a film not just about a young mayor but about a city seeking a comeback.

Besides Tubbs, “Stockton on My Mind” looks into the life of Raymond Aguilar, a man who served more than two decades in prison and now works with at-risk communities to deter violent crime. It also shows the work of Jasmine Dellafosse, a community organizer and activist who helps youth avoid the court system.

The documentary is the latest in new line of films that look into the works of insurgent candidates of color in the age of Trump. The 2019 Netflix film “Knock Down the House” by Rachel Lears, for example, examines the campaigns of U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive candidates who challenge incumbents.

“Stockton on My Mind” will stream free on HBO until Sept. 21.

Associated Press journalist Russell Contreras is a member of the AP’s Race and Ethnicity Team. Follow Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras

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