George Koster


From Bankruptcy to Reinvention –

The City of Stockton


Episode 1: It Takes a Village

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A transcript, lightly edited for clarity and length, follows.

Show Guests: Racole Dixon, Barbara Nicholson, Tasha Dixon, and Rebekah Fenton

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. This is George Koster your host.

Series Introduction: 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 insight’s 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 is 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 Host George: I grew up in Stockton, California which filed for bankruptcy in 2013 and was named the most miserable City in the U.S. Not once but twice by Forbes Magazine. Stockton has a long history of bad management crony politics and corrupt leaders. Ironically the bankruptcy of the city has provided an opportunity for city leaders and residents to clear away the wreckage of the past and reinvent Stockton.

Show Guest Barbara: I would just like for the whole community to put aside their differences. But to come together and to unite here in Stockton and to work together with him so that his vision that he has for the city, you know, something positive but it'll work out on behalf of all the people of Stockton. But he can't do it alone. They have to come together with everyone you know that way.

Show Host George: In this episode we feature the voices of city of Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs’ mother Racole Dixon, grandmother Barbara Nicholson and Aunt Tasha Dixon on their family's legacy of community service as well as Michael Tubbs' college friend Rebekah Fenton on the founding of the Phoenix Scholars Program.

Barbara: Hi, I'm Barbara and I Michael Tubbs grandmother.

Racole: Hello, my name is Racole Dixon and I'm Michael Tubbs mother.

Tasha: And my name is Tasha Dixon and I'm Michael tells Auntie.

Show Host George: I want to thank all of you for making the time. I wanted to just first start with a lot of people that I've talked to, talked about Michael's character and how important his character is and his leadership skills etc in Stockton. To me the character starts with family. And so part of our story is to just share your story as a family, your vision of character and the importance of essentially kind of creating a village to grow up?

Racole: Michael's just Michael, you know, it's kind of hard to describe his character because you know, that's my son. But he could be serious sometimes. He could be funny want to joke sometimes or sometimes you can just be moderate and quiet. You know, so I guess that's just human, you know, we all have different stages in different moments. Yeah,

George: Do you you feel like his character came, I mean is it part of the character of the family itself?

Racole: You know what, that's a good question. I think so, I think so cuz I know where we are all our own persons, we're unique but I think characters do come from where you're around who you're around and where you came from and was very how you were raised. So right now

George: And he talked a lot in our conversation on Monday just about the whole idea of Black History and learning Black History and reading books and pride, and pride in African American community. And so I was wondering if you could share a little bit about you know, obviously that was shared at a family level. Where did that come from? Why was it important?

Tasha: I used to take Michael to the library when he was very young, before he was able to read. And so we would always, I was into our Black History as for myself, too to learn more about you know, where I come from, our different people and different things and so as I was doing that, I would get little books from the library.

And I would read to him and tell him this person did this and they built this or that person did that. And not only that I actually, I did a good study and I took it to his Elementary School and the teacher let me come in and I spoke to the kids. So, I had created this billboard with all these African American inventors and stuff like that. So I guess that must have stick with him.

Racole: And also when he was younger we used to watch Roots, you know, that was very important, you know to me that my kids learn, you know about Roots. So, he watched that and he saw what we overcame.  

George: One of the other things that came through in the conversations with people and Michael himself was the sense that anything is possible. And again, I think it starts with family in the whole idea that you can be anything.

Racole: Yeah. That's why I think you need to mold that in a child while they are young. You know, I installed that in Michael at a very young age. Let him know that he could do anything, and that he could do as much as anybody else. He's good as like anyone else and just never give up. You know, if you fall down you get back up. Just don't give up and keep God first. Just trust God

Barbara: And he always knew that we installed in our children that you can be whoever you want to be.  And don't let nobody tell you anything different

Racole: With hard work, that's the key, hard work and not giving up.  

Barbara: And then Michael was the type of child anyway that had his own drive.

Tasha: Oh, yeah, laughter

Barbara: He, you know even if maybe we wouldn't share some of this with him he knew already deep down inside, you know, he knew what he wanted to be and his calling

George: Yes, I understand he was leading, I think he shared a story about leading a City Council kind of meeting when he was you know, I think 12 or something.

Barbara: Oh Yeah, laughter

George: Not Sure.

Tasha: Oh Yes

George: Right, which I thought was great and obviously that comes from family, the idea of learning how to lead, how to communicate

Racole: Yeah, and I also think about it comes from people he's around like the pastor's you know teachers. Yeah, so yeah, we're part of it, but it's much more, you know.  

George: And so, what are some of your favorite moments in growing up together and as a family?

Barbara: I would say actually basically I enjoy it because I'm you know, the older one going out getting everybody together and going out and fellowshipping, you know over a meal and sharing. Getting an update on what's going on with everybody. You know, I enjoy having all of them together you know, Yeah and sharing....

Tasha: Oh, Yes.

George: Any other thoughts?

Racole: It is kinda hard when it's your son, you know, you just enjoy life, you just enjoy everything you know...

George: It's not just one favorite moment

Racole, Barbara, Tasha: Exactly exactly.

George: Was it graduating from high school?  Was it graduating from college?

Racole: Oh, yeah, it was everything graduating from kindergarten, you know kids start graduating, laughter, yeah. So yeah, yeah.

Tasha: Yeah, it's a lot of moments. If you were talking to any of our friends, they would tell you we need a reality show. Lots of laughter...

Racole: Yes, yeah,

Tasha: So we really enjoy one another.  

Racole: Yeah

George: The sense of family and togetherness?

Tasha: Um-hum. Yes,

Racole: Even though we have different, you know, um disagreements sometimes. We still come back and

George: Ah, I want to turn a little bit to kind of civic engagement. The idea of getting engaged in the community. And Barbara yesterday, I will say hi from Sammy Nunez who said to say hello had a very nice conversation with him. It sounds like you and he go back a while and you were engaged in Community Development Civic?

Barbara: Um-hum, Yeah working with him, but never knew that we were going to come together, you know. Working with Michael, you know and then when he knew Michael he realized, he was really surprised that was my grandson and everything.  So, they're working together very well. And I'm glad he's you know around Michael. He's a real good role model himself.

George: Yeah.

Barbara: Sammy Nunez

George: Yes, well and a great organization, Fathers and Families and doing good work together. So where did it come from the whole idea of giving back getting engaged in the community?

Tasha: Well, I guess you could say that it started from church.  We are very involved with Community involvement would love to serve, we're servants. That's what we always say we're servants first, you know, we're always here to help others. We always will go out and do community work like go feed the Homeless or gather clothes and give to a church that's giving it away to people in need. You know, that was our passion

Racole: And we are also very humble. That's very important just to be humble.

George: That's from your faith?

Racole: Yeah, and the personality too.

Barbara: Um-hum,

Racole: Yeah,

Barbara: Because even while the my girls, my daughters were going out being servants, you know working within the community with the homeless and you know the poor they also had their children when they were young doing the same thing. Like they would go to nursing home minister there, out on the streets serving meals with different organizations. So we started that with them at a young age coming.

George: So they got a real sense that you know, it's important to give back.

Barbara: Yeah,

Racole: Right, yes

George: And to your point the humility of giving back without getting recognition

Racole, Barbara, Tasha: Exactly.

Tasha: And that's one thing I love about my nephew is he doesn't want the recognition. He just does it and really don't want to be you know, thanked for it or anyone giving him high praise, he doesn't like that

George: When he decided to run for city council what was your reaction to that?

Racole, Barbara, Tasha: Break into Laughter, No... in unison ,

Racole: Do not come back to Stockton, go somewhere and make some money more laughter by all three

George: In the many conversations I've had with people, and this is my tenth conversation in the last three days he was driven to

Tasha: He was, he knew it. Barbara and Racole agree, yeah it just..

George: And again, I think that comes back to the fact that he started at a young age giving back.

Barbara, Tasha, Racole: Yeah, um-hum...

Racole: Yeah, he just wanted to get back to the City. You know, I made it. So I'm coming back to help you make it.

Barbara, Tasha, Racole: Yeah, um-hum..

George: What do you feel has been his biggest impact so far as a city councilperson leader?

Racole: I think being a role model, you know younger kids could see him and like it he's young and he's a city councilperson. He was born, you know, he was raised up not having a lot

Barbara: Raised up not  having everything given to him but knowing that it takes a lot of hard work.

Racole: Yeah and right so he's a motivator. He just remind kids that you can make it no matter what age you are. You know, yes, I'm 25 years old and I'm a city councilperson. So if I can do it you can do it

George: The whole idea of being a role model to youth in the community.

Racole: That's correct. Yes,

Tasha: Not only youth though, to adults.

George: I was just going to say that that's

Tasha: Exactly

George: That's my impression is

Tasha: Yes, everyone

George: He's running for mayor now, what would you ultimately like to see happen with regards to his political goals, but also more importantly his community, his desire to do more for the community of Stockton.  

Barbara: I would just like for the whole community to put aside their differences. But to come together and to unite here in Stockton and work together with him so that his vision that he has for the city, you know, something positive, but it'll work out on behalf of all the people of Stockton. But he can't do it alone. They have to come together with everyone, you know that way.

Racole and Tasha: - Yeah, um-hum..

George: One of the other things that comes through is education. The importance of education and [00:12:00] so where does that come from?  Obviously, it's important to the family.

Tasha: Oh, yes, very. It was I guess it basically comes because I mean where we didn't get to we you know had kids at a young age. So we didn't get to finish our goals. So we want to make sure that our kids were able to finish even if we didn't you know. So, we tried to give them the best even if we had to come together, which we did.  

Barbara: Because I even emphasize that also with my girls which was emphasized with me a lot of the older African Americans that I was around because I'm almost 70 now ...Laughter

George: I have to say you certainly don't look that way. Laughter

Barbara: Thank you, more Laughter... Anyway, and they would always say you have to go to school get your education. You know, they would always say that and so I always remember that too and I did go as far as possible and I had my children though late late in age in a way according to my culture, Okay, And yeah, they would always emphasize that and so I did I tried to go as far as I could

Tasha: And she carried that on to us and we did what we did but then when it came to our kids we like Nah-ah, they gonna make it this is gonna happen, you're going to college ... Laughter But we didn't have to push it on them they wanted it, you know,

Racole: Because that's all they knew. Because again we installed at a young age

Barbara: And not only that but with them they were I think a little bit stricter with their children as far as getting those good grades.

Racole: Ooh yah,

Barbara: And they had to go for excellence. You know it even with Michael the way that he was, that was already in him to is where he couldn't give him lower than an A.

Okay, he would kind of go up an challenge his teachers if they gave him anything lower than an A, Laughter

Racole: Yeah B, I know, why did I get a B?  Yeah... Laughter by Tasha, Barbara and Racole

Barbara: Well like wow so we kind of noticed that in him, there was already something already there, you know

George: One of the things I was talking to Nicholas Hatten about today was will ask him about the secret sauce. Like what is the secret sauce in the family that going on to college for example, what would you say are some of the ingredients in the secret size? Obviously we talked about education. Talked about giving back

Tasha: Huh-um

George: And humility

Tasha: Hu-um, one thing is to do your best to get the best grade that you can get because even when I did get my AA degree and I started on my BA, I'm almost done. So the kids are pressuring me now to go back and finish. But I was the same way. I didn't want anything lesser than a B. I wanted A's and B's. So I guess when they seen that, or our stories telling them, you know, I from high school I graduated before my class. Um, I'm also a year before but, I ended up graduating early, so I ended up going to a community college while I was [00:15:00] waiting to go back to graduate from high school.

So I did all that. So they it was just already a strive but then nothing's happened. But then they carried on with the kids and they seen our goals and the goals that we wanted to accomplish. So that make them want to be eager and accomplish theirs as well. So I think it's, uh..  Its just in us um, I guess... laughter

Barbara: I even graduated myself before ahead of time, okay. I started college at 17, so it started there though too

George: The common theme here is your driven

Tasha: We're driven but something yes,

George: Driven but, you know have have a level of humility with that as well.

Tasha: Oooh yes, oooh yes,

Racole: And also surround yourself around people that can help you grow. That's very important who you're around.

George: And it feels like that was part of Michael's upbringing as well was the Church Community as well as friends family, to support the idea that you can be anything

Tasha: Exactly

George: But the same expectations you have to get an A

Barbara: And getting back to the church part, that's where  when he was very young is where we begin to see and notice some difference in him. They noticed it from his teachers that were at church. I'll give you a call. Do you mind if I give you a little story?

George: Stories are always great

Barbara: I think he was about five years old and you know how in church when it's Easter, they give you your play. You know, they give you a script to learn right? So the teacher passes out scripts to everyone.

Okay, so then you know, I guess the class is almost over and the teacher encourages all the kids you go home have your parents to study and go over it with you because you know any one of them to do a good job. And so Michael says teacher teacher. I already know my script, -Tasha laughing- you know, she didn't believe him, she's thinks he is a cheat, you know, and then he kept on, he was consistent.

Because she wanted him to go home and study. And he said no, no I know my script. So then they tested him and he knew his script before class begins. So, then they began to watch him and they begin to see some things that was in him that was a little different.

Tasha: Laughter, Oh, yeah that's right... I remember that.

George: I have a feeling you've been asked about Michael many times. But what is something about yourselves that you do not feel like people really know?

Tasha: To be honest, I think they you know, the people that actually know us, know us, know about us. Because we're so open with real about everything so we don't hide anything and I guess they just see it from my actions for what we do, and for what we say

So I don't think there's anything really that they don't know to be honest with you. You Racole? No, You mama? No

Barbara: I think that with Michael and as far as being raised up, is that he may not have had a father in the home. But each one of us played our role and that gave him a balance.

Okay, you may have somebody that may be very strict. Okay, and you may have somebody that might be kind of really liberal or has to have its spiritual needs there. You know, so he's getting a lot spiritually speaking. He gets an input there and each one has their own role. So it balances.  It comes to a balance, you know what I mean, he's not perfect at all

Racole: You know that is the thing, that when you fall down you get back up

Barbara: And we make mistakes and one thing about him is that he'll you know, he'll go ahead and admit to his errors and he'll feel real bad and repentance on it because he wants to change he learns on it and he must grow from that you know

Racole: The one thing about that is Michael, first he forgives himself, you know. Yeah, sometimes when you mess up, you know, you still get you know mad at yourself. So once you forgive yourself that's very important and then, you know of course God and make sure you know, ask God for forgiveness. But yeah, forgiving yourself, that's very important, I think.  

Tasha: Yeah, that is about it... Just go out and vote for Michael Tubbs for Mayor.

You know, if you fall down, you get back up, just don’t give up and keep God first
— Racole Dixon, Mother of Michael Tubbs

Show Midpoint / Show Host George: You're 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 were discussing the Reinvention of the City of Stockton, California.

We just heard from City of Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs’ Mother Racole Dixon, Grandmother Barbara Nicholson and Aunt Tasha Dixon who shared their own unique perspectives on Mayor Tubbs and the family's legacy of education, risk-taking, spirituality, humility and community engagement.

My associate producer Nick McClendon and fellow past resident of Stockton spoke with Rebekah Fenton a long time close friend of Michael Tubbs from their time together at Stanford University and who supported the creation of the Phoenix Scholars Program. Rebekah shares her insights into Michael Tubbs’ drive to support access to a college education for low-income first-generation minority High School seniors.

Show Host Nick: This is Nick McClendon, I am here with Rebekah Fenton and in Seattle, right?

Rebekah: Yeah, so I'm originally from Sacramento and then basically decided that I wanted to see kind of a different part of the West Coast and so came here for residency with my husband and I'm doing a pediatric residency at Seattle Children's

Nick: Awesome, now we here in San Francisco are doing a interview series on Michael Tubbs and his mayoral candidacy, his campaign and his reinvention of Stockton movement. How well do you know Michael?

Rebekah: I know him very well. We met actually freshman year of college. It felt like we had lots of mutual friends and everybody on both ends were just saying like you need to meet that person. And basically it worked out that we had this required class together in the first quarter of our freshman year where we ended up not only being  in the same class, but also in the same section. And at kind of the end of it was just like, went up to him saying do you know this person? This person? This person?

I've heard from all of them that I need to meet you. So hi, my name is Rebekah. And from there is where our friendship began. He shared very similar passions as I do as far as education just improving the communities that we come from. And so I remember very early on being very impressed by that and wanting to do anything that I could to be able to support some of his visions and it's been so great to see how he's accomplished that since then.

Nick: How early on did he hit you with these big Ambitions to sort of change or just even the aspirations of the reformation of society around us if you will from Michael?

Rebekah: Yeah, so from a ideas perspective it was immediately. Like the things that he would comment about during our section, we're always related to his experiences particularly in Stockton as well as kind of ah, the hopes that he had for communities. And how he would help to implement those but as far as practically was also quite early.

I remember messaging him over our first Thanksgiving break and asking him. Oh, what are you up to expecting answers like watching TV or hanging out with friends. And instead he writes, I'm going to help kids apply to college. And I said, oh that sounds cool. Like I want to help thinking that it was going to be some kind of small-scale just you know, couple of friends helping a couple of students and instead he shared with me this Vision that he had for the Phoenix Scholars.

And from there. I was involved immediately.

Nick: So that's how you know, Michael is through Phoenix Scholars. And can you tell us a little bit more about Phoenix Scholars?

Rebekah: Sure, so basically the Phoenix Scholars is now a nonprofit that basically is based at Stanford where Stanford students are training fellow students to serve as mentors for students from low-income backgrounds. Many of the students that we helped are the first in their families to go to college. And we basically recruit them at the end of the junior year, support them through the entire application process.

Selecting colleges applying for scholarships and we've had the success of having all of our kids go on to four-year colleges and many of them receiving significant financial aid to be able to support those efforts. And so that started from that very simple Facebook message of I'm helping kids apply to college. Michael Tubbs’ inspiration was the fact that he actually was on message boards as a senior in high school looking for help as far as wanting to apply to elite colleges and having the grades to be able to do so, but being in an environment where many kids did not go on Stanford. And so he didn't have teachers around him who understood  what that process look like. And what your personal statement should really include and things like that.

He ended up reaching out to a counselor who offered through online to basically read his essays help them through the process. And he was so impacted by that and certainly it turned out so well that he not only went to Stanford but was also a Coca-Cola scholar and received multiple financial aid offers and scholarships that he wanted to be able to give that back to other students like him.

So we basically recruit students from all over California many of whom do not come from communities that are not college-going. Recognizing that we shouldn't be limited by who's near us and the fact that many students have phones and access to the internet that we can be able to provide that same support no matter where they are in the state.

Nick: How important do you think it is to come back like Michael and where do you see Michael fitting in along our state's mayor's or government?

Rebekah: Yeah, I think that impact is tremendous. I think that there was nobody who knows a community better than somebody who came from that. And certainly there's always well-meaning people who want to go into areas that they have no experience being in before. But I think having both the passion as well as the experience just can't be beat. And so that's why I think Stanford as a whole has been so proud of Michael for going back to become a councilman and are very excited and supportive to see what he can accomplish as a mayor.

Nick: Any other stories outside of his campaign or even off campus that you know, of Michael?

Rebeka: Yeah. So one thing I love is actually using his personal statement that he wrote for Stanford as inspiration for many students. Because I actually come from a much more privileged background.

My father is a physician. My mom is in nursing professor. And so for me the inspiration to work with the communities that we have helped with Phoenix Scholars was recognizing that my parents were actually first generation college students. And I recognized how different my life looked from their life growing up just because of the fact that they were able to go to college. And so my hope is to be able to give that same experience to the students I'm helping so that they will literally have generational impact because of having a college degree.

So I often share Michael's story just as inspiration for them of recognizing that here is somebody who comes from similar communities to you. Where Michael's mom did not have a college degree. And he grew up recognizing that she had the skill levels to be promoted but was often held back because of not having a degree. In addition to that, Michael's father was actually incarcerated for most of his life and he met him for the first time at 11 years old.

And so in his personal statement for Stanford, he talks about the fact that his father told him as a black man in this country, you have two options. You either are dead or end up here. And I feel like there's often this sense that that's the only options that we have and Michael certainly could have internalized that having grown up in that environment.

And instead he decided to become exactly the opposite of what his father kind of projected his future might be and basically tried to seek all the opportunities his mother was not able to have. And uses that inspiration to talk to other students about the fact that he calls it like the poem by Tupac "The Rose That Grew From Concrete" this idea that you could become, beautiful things from these very troubled and challenging environments.

Nick: That's awesome that you know that I was definitely going to want to be one of my questions to ask you is what that poem meant to you? I'm really glad you're familiar with it

Rebekah: Yeah and he does a Camp every summer in Stockton that I wish I had the opportunity to be involved in, where he basically helps students from the community. It is kind of a leadership program for them. And really inspires them to recognize that, even as a teenager, they can have a huge impact in their environment and kind of making a difference.

And so I think that poem is huge inspiration to that because often just there's this assumption that young people can't accomplish much. I think Michaels whole life story proves the opposite. And I'm so glad that he uses himself as an example and really empowers kids to do the same.

Nick: And for you as two of the leaders of the Phoenix Scholars, it is so cool and important and valuable that you have that experience of the generational gap. You being the second generation and Michael being the first. It is just really good to have that knowledge backing to know where these kids and young people are coming from to help them, you know guide their paths on to success. So it's been great talking to you. Thank you so much.

Rebekah: Thank you.

Episode Outro: That's it for this episode of voices of the community. You've been listening to Rebekah Fenton. A Pediatrics resident at Seattle Children's Hospital regarding her longtime friendship and work with Michael Tubbs and the Phoenix Scholars efforts to provide pro bono College counseling services to low-income first-generation and minority High School seniors in California.

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 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  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.


Copyright © 2016-2019 Voices of the Community / Alien Boy Productions All rights reserved.

Voices of the Community transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Descript  This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of Alien Boy Productions’ Voices of the Community’s programming is the audio record.