A transcript, lightly edited for clarity and length, follows.
Show Guests: Sammy Nunez, Executive Director of Fathers & Families
Series Introduction: Welcome to Voices of the Community which explores critical issues facing Northern California communities. We introduce you to the voices of community thought leaders and change makers who are working on solutions that face our fellow individual community members neighborhoods cities and our region.
Series Introduction: This is George Koster your host. This episode is part of our documentary series from Bankruptcy to Reinvention the City of Stockton California. The documentary series attempts to provide listeners with the insights points of view and personal stories from the various voices of change makers working to reinvent the City of Stockton.
The interviews were conducted from August to September 2016 leading up to the election of Mayor Michael Tubbs. Who's our central character in the series. The interviews in the documentary series have been edited to fit into our show format. The unedited full interviews will be posted on my website along with each episode of the series.
Show Guest Sammy: Well, this is a new time right now, man. The times are changing and there is ah, there is a definitely a, groundswell of people that are now participating in the in this process and uh, I think they have uh, a big stake in the outcome of this. Um, and so I think again that we are starting to see that we're starting to see and sense our own power as a people. And no longer leaving it up to the traditional Power Players to make decisions about us and for us that actually have really done harm to us.
Show Host George: In this episode we feature the voice of Sammy Nunez the Executive Director of Fathers and Families of San Joaquin. Fathers and Families works with Stockton's most vulnerable families to support struggling community members who are often underserved, disenfranchised and forgotten. Fathers and Families guiding principles are to promote cultural, spiritual, economic, and social renew.
Sammy and Fathers and Families, works closely with Nicholas Hatten and the San Joaquin Pride Center who we spoke to in Episode 2. And is part of the ecosystem of wraparound services that Mayor Tubbs works closely with, in the Reinvention of Stockton.
Sammy: So I'm the founder of the organization, but I have to admit that, I'm just the one that acted on an impulse and a hunch.
George: Always a great way to go
Sammy: Always a great way to go. So I as a child growing up obviously, you know saw a lot of the same things that a lot of young men of color are witnessing, right. Seemingly overnight men were just being wiped out like they were just gone.
Where did the men go in our communities right? And we blame them "The Men." We don't see beyond their actions and the fact that they were just missing and they left a huge vacuum in our lives. A lot of me and my friends my peers and certainly in all kinds of neighborhoods like mine that were devastated that had really a punctuated poverty and an illusion of scarcity.
And so when we saw the men leave, one thing that we learned the hard way. Was that when we allowed them to leave for whatever reason whether it was by choice or not so much by choice, but by virtue of over policing and certain tactics and strategies that were about our Public Safety our safety. So it wasn't by virtue of a choice but rather by because you were unsafe to be in this neighborhood and we're going to extract you from it and put you somewhere else in confinement.
So whether it was through incarceration, and all these different policies and at that point, we didn't know the policies at play we didn't understand that, we were children. All we see was men were gone. And so we had to organize ourselves. And these later became called gangs, right? And so it was through this experience that I started realizing, it definitely materialized in certain fatalistic attitudes and behaviors in our community, especially with our young men.
So as a young man, I saw these things I lived in a neighborhood where violence was the norm. You had to at least be violent enough to protect yourself in these neighborhoods. And so I basically reacted. And I projected back to the world what I felt it projected upon me. Which was pain and shame. And I fought back the only way I knew how a young person and as MLK said violence is a tool of the inarticulate, so I didn't know how to articulate my pain.
I did not understand the contextual Frameworks that we were that was creating these conditions that we were not responsible for. We were not responsible for the conditions in our neighborhoods. These were decisions being made somewhere else. Yeah, we were reacting to these conditions whether it was over policing, whether it was the War on Drugs, which was as we know now looking back on it was an epic failure was really was a war on people of color and poor people in our communities. But this hyper reaction to it resulted in our own criminalization.
And so really again these volatile kinds of circumstances where we reacted with the only way we knew how. Which was through violence and through sure power. And that was the only way I felt at that time we could survive. And so we didn't organize our neighborhoods in our community out of hate, it was actually out of love.
It was out of love for one another even though we didn't have self-love. I love my brother down the street who has the same struggles I do. I grew up with them, went to the same schools. Had the same circumstances was abused like he was. Like, we had a lot of common struggle even if we didn't know how to articulate it.
We just kind of had an affinity towards one another kind of gravitated towards one another we kind of knew each other through our pain. And as a result of that most of my friends fulfill the prophetic messages that were receiving constantly over time. You're from that neighborhood, you are going to end up dead or in prison by the time you're such and such.
So what our dreams were early on his children's like any child were, you know boundless dreams that we had. But, those dreams soon become nightmares and we start to... The dream now if you ask a child, what do you want to be when you grow up? Typically children will say things like a teacher or a professor or a astronaut or a police officer or any of these lofty goals that were taught are like indicators of success.
Aaah, but asking those same children like myself because I'm preceded by that child. What you want to be when you're 15, 16 17? Well, know you're a little bit older, you're more mature you know, you have the physical characteristics of an adult. Yet, you're still very much a child in development. You ask them what they want to be and they want to be alive at 25.
They don't want to end up in prison or dead. And those are, the those are the choices you have. Overtime, systematically your dream are over time just eroded into like just surviving right? So I was in and out, I was in and out of Juvenile Justice facilities as a young boy. I witnessed atrocities in my neighborhood. Saw people get murdered literally in front of me.
Domestic violence is a norm. Seen my mom being beaten savagely by her her then-husband my stepdad who she remarried after I was born. And then living in the projects. Living in the in those areas where we had to organize ourselves. Like I said for survival and we thought we felt compelled to do it. And then there's a lot of angry young men running around with very little guidance and not feeling welcomed anywhere and not feeling a sense of purpose.
But rather this gave us a sense of purpose, right? So by the time I was 18 years old, on January 2nd, 1993, I witnessed the birth of my daughter. And that was an amazing transformational period in my life. And I remember the vow, I gave her that many boys tell their children when they become parents themselves.
Is that I will never, I will never do what he did. I will never abandon you. I will always be here for you. I'll never turn my back on you. And you really mean that with all sincerity with all your heart right. That I love you. I remember the first time I held, I didn't even know how to hold my daughter. I'd been through my hands were used for fighting and hurting and never for nurturing and for holding.
And so I remember holding her and feeling inadequate and scared as hell about it. And then giving her that vow and that Promise. But, by February 13th, literally a few weeks later, I was shot in my neighborhood, with a 12-gauge shotgun at point-blank range and it just went through me my upper torso and exited out my back. And actually some of my friends that were there at the time, that took off running were hit with the BB's as they exited out my back.
I flatlined four times, I lost double my weight in blood. So, I was by all intensive purposes Dead on Arrival at the hospital. Fortunately uh, I survived or at the time I didn't feel so fortunate certainly, because I think that they don't call it suicide when you stand in front of the 12-gauge shotgun.
But what else are you going to call it now? Thinking back on it, again fatalistic extreme behavior, grounded in this pain that had gone un-resolved and unchecked. Not even just for me, little did I know that my dad had the same pain and shame. And his dad probably did as well. There was a history of this beginning with the conquest of our people, right?
And so all of that kind of you know was a generational kind of pattern that occurred, and it showed up in each generation. May be subtle differences, but the reality was the same. So here I am, a young father 18 years old, high school dropout. I mean for most of my friends ugh, I did my own research on this and one of the three of my friends ended up with some form of paralysis.
Due to a violent occurrence or incident their life. So I'm disabled now. And I'm like, what am I going to do next? And at that point there was two groups that came to see me. One was law enforcement and let's just say we're not trauma-informed. They basically reiterated what I felt. Why did you live?
Why couldn't he have died? You should have died and I bet you're not even going to tell on the guys a shot you are you? Because you're a no good gang member. And I was made to feel inadequate. This [00:10:00] caused a nervous breakdown for my mom at that moment. Because she was just appalled by the way they were conducting the investigation. They were very aggressive, came in like many of them and there were with the gang task force.
So, they came in like a tougher gang, like that's the mentality is like, you know, I'm a tougher gang. We're tougher gang members than you guys are right. And so they didn't see a victim in me didn't see someone who had gone through, you know near-death experience. That was just traumatized and scared about what the future holds for me.
Basically, they left largely because the medical staff ushered them out because it was causing so much anxiety. And the next group of people that came in were my friends. And there they were not trauma-informed either. So, they are like let's go get them. Retaliation is a must right. These are the de facto policies in these communities.
And so that experience led me to like kind of start realizing like man, how can I be a good father to my child when I'm so like where am I going? I don't even know where I'm going in life. I have no sense of direction. I survive this ordeal and what am I going to do next? And after, actually I have to be completely honest and say that I did retaliate.
And I ended up having some time to reflect. And during this time of reflection, I was given an opportunity to educate myself. And it was self literally... A lot of it was really my own sense of self discovery and reclaiming the sense of dignity, the sense of my own respect, a sense of love for myself and a newfound love for my community. During this time, I came across actually in this institution, I had this teacher a retired professor, Dr. Kofel. She was a like a really stern old school English professor. She was tougher than any gang member I ever encountered in the yard or outside in my neighborhood. But I remember the first time I went to go see her and she told me to sit somewhere where I felt like I was sitting next to what my perceived enemy was.
And she said you go sit right there Nunez and I said I'm not gonna sit there. And she goes we have a choice right now. You can either sit there or you could go back to your cell. I said that is not much of a choice. She was but she still have a choice, make the choice Mr. Nunez. And we talked about choice and I don't really you're not giving me much of a choice.
She was it doesn't matter. You always have choices. What choice are you going to choose today? What are you going to choose today? And I just kept on replaying this and I said you, you, I just was angry because I didn't know how to respond. Because she had me, it is like gotcha, but you have a choice right now.
What are you choosing? And I never felt that I had a choice I guess. So all this is to say that I went through the program. I was exposed to some of the literary greats in Folsom State Prison. Eighteen years old just coming out of this ordeal, tried for attempted murder, for my retaliation. Thank God I didn't hit anybody, because I would not see the light of day again. And when I got there it was two choices. You can either go to prison Industries and get paid 19 cents an hour. Or you can go to education and get the halftime. But you are going through education. My mom did raise a fool, I'm like, I'll go through the education route. I have a choice, like I said, you know, that's where I learned about Shakespeare.
I even you know, "To be or not to be", that came... I never understood that, right until I was there and I said shit that's me. To be or not to be that is the question, "Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of Outrageous Fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them to die to sleep no more and by a sleep to say we end the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to tis a consummation devoutly to be wished to die to sleep to sleep perchance to dream".
I feel like man, that's me. Anyway, I want to do I want to be or not be? Do I want to live or not live? Is there something for me to provide and contribute?
Show Midpoint / Show Host George : Your listening to Voices of the Community, which explores critical issues facing Northern California communities. This is George Koster your host and if you're just joining us in this episode, we are discussing the reinvention of the city of Stockton, California.
We're speaking to Sammy Nunez the Executive Director of Fathers and Families of San Joaquin who is sharing his experience in working with institutional inequality and fatherless homes.
Sammy: So after I got out paroled back to my county in Santa Clara ugh, and then eventually moved to Stockton. And so I was in Santa Clara for a little while and that is where I began my journey of discovery and trying to find out where can I fit in and make some meaningful contributions to a community that I've taken so much from. And so what I learned transitioning into San Joaquin County and doing some work here, I learned there was a common factor. And the common factor was all these young men these at-risk young men came from at-risk families where dad usually was gone.
Ugh, Mom sometimes we're gone too. Because that's the whole issue like, we allow them to take Dad and they took Mom with him. Because mom has to work two jobs along with any number of things that Mom has to do just to survive. And they lived in at-risk communities. So what came first? The At Risk Child or The At Risk Community, right?
They're not responsible for these conditions. So I started realizing that perhaps if we could do a better service because we're doing all this gang intervention work and youth development work and all this stuff, but perhaps we're missing the mark. Perhaps maybe we should start working with the men and we work with the men, maybe they can work on the community. And if they are working with the community, maybe the children don't have to live in the same adverse conditions that are that are atrocious. And maybe we can actually make a difference that way. And what was interesting about that. Was that the name actually drew in young people.
Like I said, there were still, we're still reeling from the policies of yesteryear. All these policies born under neglect, despair and lack of fair treatment of our needs right. Of our needs in our community. These policies were done supposedly to provide safety for us. But if anything they destabilized our communities even further. There was dis-investment in these communities and there was over policing and there was an over reliance on incarceration. And there was a lot of system involved families now, so now you had generations of families and institutions whether it be the prison system, the correctional system, the Juvenile Justice System, CPS, foster care and marginalized educational settings.
Schools that were ugh, poorly resourced and so that's pretty good setup that becomes a perfect storm. Right? Where do you where do you go in a hopeless situation like that? And how can you have a hope in such a dark environment? Right? It was the young men in particular and the young women many young women that were touched by Juvenile Justice that were in CPS have been touched by CPS and were in marginal educational settings like, you know alternative schools.
And certainly we're on the trail and on the fast track to incarceration. If nothing happened in their lives, they would inevitably surely end up in prison. Like what do we do? So as young people come in and they develop our concept of a Youth and Family Empowerment Center that was easily accessible.
That had certain principles one of the things that we realize is that there's four, there's four questions children ask. Am I wanted? Do I have a Positive Purpose? Where do I go to heal and feel safe? And who can guide me to reach my potential? Right? And these are the questions that young people ask. So yes, we need to provide a place that answers those questions.
Yes, you are wanted and you are blessing. Yes, you have a positive purpose in this world, and yes, you could come to us. So we can guide you. This is where you go to get guided and to be in a safe environment that secure and never doubt the fact that you have ancestral wisdom and teachings in your own culture that promotes healing. And let's reintroduce you to those concepts right that promote healing. And so the young people took all of this pain and they developed this concept in preparation for their fathers to come home, which was quite interesting.
It was the young people that began this work with me. And so they created this this has been the work over 10 years now that we've been at it. And this is our Fathers and Families of San Joaquin came into existence.
George: What would be a good example of you working with the community to facilitate the understanding that conflict can take the form of conversation instead of violence?
Sammy: I think the way we facilitate that process is by ah facilitated conversations. And the art of dialogue, right. Often times we've lost that right, and it's more like interlocking monologues. It seems like people are just talking to get their points across. So there's a way to do it that creates this movement. I think it's not just as simple as creating these conversations.
I think the conflict is really good. But the main thing I think that we're conflicted with is ourselves. And I think that creating a space where you have a reflective process, where I'm able to now listen. And this is the conversation you just walked into. Want them to because one of our guys are just came home. You know, he's been he's ah BTDT. We call it a BTDT, "Been There Done That". And he ugh, really is passionate about this to the point that it's overwhelming. That energy. And that energy that male energy that fire energy can be can be warm and nurturing [00:19:00] or it could be overwhelming and burn people. So how do you tend to that? So that way you can get your point across, but also listen so you can create dialogue. Because you yourself are also in development.
So I think it happens through a variety of different ways. But one of the main ways is through our own kind of healing circles that we have. It's a not therapy, but it's therapeutic. It's person-centered. It's very intentional. It's like since time immemorial our people have been doing this practice.
So it's couched in Indigenous practices and theories. And it facilities that type of dialogue. But it's something that I'm trying to master still, is that facilitative role through our sharing and our expressing ourselves were able to heal. At the same time that were are able to get through this conflict and get to the point where there's Mutual Understanding and it creates movement.
George: That brings us back to Michael Tubbs right? In doing our main story on, you know, basically the leadership of Michael Tubbs because you know of what you just spoke about right? The whole idea that there's a [00:20:00] shift and change. He's another person who came back grew up here etc....
So I wanted to go back to you talked about the, I mean I grew up in Stockton. So I remember people like Ralph Lee White right and all of the whole chain of a variety of you know dysfunctional City Council, Board of Supervisors corruption, School Board and all of it. So the sea change right mean you're part of it.
You know, Michael Tubbs is part of it, you know provide the audience a little bit of kind of insight and an example of how important it is for a non-profit leader, a nonprofit organization and a boots-on-the-ground organization, working with someone like a City Council or Board of Supervisor to make you know, the policy change but the structural change
Sammy: The practices, the community defined practices, the policy changes that will unlock new opportunity and also the relationships right that need to be strengthened. So, you know, first of all and [00:21:00] I met Michael when he was still a young man and in the YAC the Youth Advisory Committee. And prior to that, I knew Michael because I knew Grandma. I was organizing with his Grandma Barbara.
George: I'm meeting her tomorrow and talking
Sammy: Yep, so you mention my name and she'll tell you like and she was always so proud of Michael. And I think, I wouldn't be out of line to say that I think she knew that when he was going off to school that they all knew that he was a rock star right. And that he was going to go on and do beautiful things and amazing things. And you know when he was going off to Stanford, I remember, you know talking to Barbara and and she was super happy. And I think she was troubled by the fact that he wanted to come back - my feeling to Stockton.
Um, and I think part of that is because you want better for your kids. You want better for your children. You want better for your children's children certainly, right? You want your children to have all the opportunities and advantages that perhaps missed you right. But I remember Michael even then being a very very masterful facilitator.
And I say that is not an easy task especially for it mean for anybody. Let alone a 16 year old young black kid, right from South Stockton? And he was in a room with mostly affluent white kids. And I respected him for the way he conducted himself and he kind of drove the agenda. So I knew that already man, this guy's a rock star. This guy's going to be doing some amazing things later on right?
So when you decided to come back we sat down. First of all Barbara told me he's gonna come back and he wants to run for office. You're going to support my Michael aren't you? And I go, Barbara I don't think that's a question, I think that's more of a directive. But yes, absolutely. I think we should sit down.
And ah, before we moved in here we were out there on Cherokee, on the fringes, because that is what they do to people like us you see. They put us out in the fringes. They segregate us. They avoid us. That's the number one factor in dysfunctional families and communities is isolation and avoidance. And so unfortunately we're out there and we were able to again continue to incubate our work, right?
And so when Michael ran I was definitely enthused. First of all it wasn't just an easy like yes, a blanket endorsement. He sat down with me and some of our young folks that were mostly impacted by the systems that have been through again, these these difficult situations these adverse situations that just it's just even amazing that they even still show up you want to be like and then having to answer their questions.
I said I want to meet with you, but I want you to meet with our folks. Not just with me, but I want you to be with our folk. Because we as a community we adore, you know... I can't endorse an agency, but we can endorse as individuals, right? Who are we going to support that supports me, right? What keeps me up at night? Are you going to support what keeps me up at night? What I lose sleep over what I wrestled over? Are you going to support that? And I remember even prior to this his predecessor well, actually the Mayor's predecessor I should say. So I've always been involved. I've I made the connection really early on with the social conditions in the neighborhood and the policy makers that are and their willingness or lack thereof of representing those needs in the neighborhood.
And so I even supported you know, I supported Carlos I on a personal tip went door-to-door put in a lot of work and Sweat Equity. I supported many other folks, but I think those are the ones that stand out to me was like Carlos and Michael. Especially because, Carlos kind of put out a hit piece on me later on. Which kind of really was to his demise frankly, because times have changed.
I don't think he's keeping track of how times have changed. That is how out of Step you are with the rest of the world here and the rest of this community right? Because a lot of his staunch supporters jumped ship on him after that frankly, and we're really angry that he did that. But anyway, so Michael when he was running, he actually sat down with us went out there to the outskirts of Stockton and sat down with us.
And at that point I made a decision, I said I'm going to support you man. And I feel like you really are, I give it to you man. What you lack for in experience you make up for it just intellect and sure desire to make a difference, man. And, I think that's much more important to me than 30 years in office.
Do you have the intellect and do you have the gumption and do you have the courage the moral fiber, the moral courage, the moral fortitude, to challenge the status quo in this community? Because that's exactly what we are all about, we embody that. And so, and I think he by even running changed the discourse. But now he's completely done it by securing the position he was after. And I would say that he's going to secure the Mayor's seat as well. And he will be the youngest, who happens to be black Mayor in Stockton's history from what I gather. Which is a testament not to him, but to us as a society that we are no longer dealing with the status quo and people that harm our community that get into office and just turn their back on the people that they serve. I'll tell you one thing about Michael, one thing that they're you can bank on, he shows up in the community.
You can ask any of these other folks and especially that represent South Stockton. How often do they really show up in the community? Not at their "mansion", not for just a special interest group. But if we're having something at McKinley Park in the neighborhood with community members, do you show up? Yes, he shows up.
No big old who, you know, no big ol like, you know grand stage, just show up and show up with the people. That to me shows a lot about an individual. I think that also we as a community need to keep all of them grounded. All politicians, need to be, you know we need to hold their feet to the fire. This is a new time right now, man. The times are changing and there is a there is a definitely a groundswell of people that are now participating in the, in this process and I think they have a big stake in the outcome of this.
And so I think again that we are starting to see that we're starting to see and sense our own power as a people and no longer leaving it up to the traditional Power Players. To make decisions about us and for us that, actually have really done harm to us.
Episode Outro: That's it for this episode of Voices of the Community. You've been listening to Sammy Nunez, the Executive Director of Fathers and Families of San Joaquin who shared his organization's work to promote strong and healthy families, were children youth, and fathers are engaged and nurture.
Series Outro: Voices of the Community is a labor of love. This documentary series on the City of Stockton's reinvention is a tribute to my mother Josephine Koster Wyllie who grew up in South Stockton and passed away during the production of the documentary series. My mom was a first generation Italian immigrant whose family migrated to Stockton and owned a motel on the Old Charter way now renamed Martin Luther King Boulevard in the Heart of South Stockton. Mayor Michael Tubbs also grew up in South Stockton with his single mother Racole Dixon.
Throughout the series, you'll hear voices of community members who are working with Michael Tubbs in both creating new organizations as well as working with fellow community members to reinvent both South Stockton and the greater Stockton Community.
Series Credits: I want to thank my associate producers Eric Estrada and Nick McClendon as well as advising producer Malcolm Cecil. Please go to georgekoster.com to check out our next episode of From Bankruptcy to Reinvention - The City of Stockton California documentary series as well as our archived past shows which feature community voices working on solutions to critical issues facing Northern California communities. Please rate us on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts and share this story with your friends. Follow us on twitter @georgekoster and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org I'm George Koster in San Francisco and thank you for listening.
In memoriam of Jo Koster Wyllie
This has been an Alien Boy Production.
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