Michael Tubbs discusses life growing up in Stockton in new memoir, ‘The Deeper The Roots’

If you had asked Michael D. Tubbs a year ago what he would do if he lost his mayoral reelection campaign in Stockton, he might have been clueless, unsure of what was next. Well, since losing that contest last November, Tubbs hasn’t skipped a beat. He became the special adviser for economic mobility and opportunity for Gov. Gavin Newsom. He and his wife just added a daughter to their family. Now Tubbs has released a memoir giving an in-depth look into his life, examining how a Black boy raised in Stockton was able to defy the odds and redefine the fate that is placed on most people of color in marginalized communities.

“The Deeper the Roots” was published on Nov. 16, under Oprah Winfrey’s imprint, Flatiron Books. He signed the book deal in 2017 and it was originally supposed to be released in 2018, except he didn’t begin writing until 2019. He calls the memoir a “timestamp in a unique period of time.”

Through detailing his life experiences, Tubbs showed how, in his words, his early life exemplified what it means to be “a rose that grew from concrete.” In many ways, he says the memoir was a love letter to the Black women in his life who were pivotal as he matured, from a young boy from Stockton, to a man who is now seen as an inspiration and political leader. “I realized there’s real power in not just my story, but in stories broadly,” Tubbs said in an interview with The Sacramento Bee. “There’s power in understanding other people’s experiences. It’s necessary, I think, to chart the path forward for who we want to be as a city, as a state, as a country.” His memoir tells of growing up in south Stockton in the post-Reagan era and the aftermath of the crack epidemic. He was raised by women he calls his “three mothers” — his mother, grandmother and his aunt. During most of his youth, his father was incarcerated. He describes the important role that his three mothers, other mentors, and the church community played in his life. From navigating life as an adolescent to young adulthood and going off to Stanford for college to return to his hometown, run for city council and eventually become mayor. He became the first Black mayor of Stockton and, at 26, the youngest person to hold that position. He became known as the innovative mayor who started a universal income program that has since become the Mayors for Guaranteed Income initiative.

“When I was on council and I was mayor, that was the time of George Floyd, Trayvon Martin and Black Lives Matter. All that happened while I was governing in my 20s,” said Tubbs. “I thought it’d be really interesting to talk about what it’s like to be (not only) a Black person in America at this time, but a Black person who’s leading these institutions at this time and all the different pressures.” As he grew up, literature and music were his therapy, he said, and his affinity for literature and hip-hop pushed him to tell his story. He credits hip-hop artists such as: J. Cole, Tupac Shakur, Kendrick Lamar, Drake and Nipsey Hussle as inspirations not only while writing his memoir, but throughout his term as mayor and even in his younger years. As a kid, he loved to read memoirs and books about how historical individuals helped change the world. It was after reading books such as “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” “Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglas” and “Manchild in the Promised Land” that Tubbs recalls asking himself, “How can I make change, what can I do right and do I matters.

“One message that I want people to get out of reading the book is that you have a role to play and it’s not up to someone else,” Tubbs said. “Roses can grow from concrete, but they shouldn’t have to. We want roses to grow from rosebushes.” His story is a “survivor’s tale” of a kid who dreamed of single-handedly turning around Stockton and in some respects he was successful in that.

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