A transcript, lightly edited for clarity and length, follows.
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.
Series Introduction: 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 George Koster.com along with each episode of the series.
Show Host George: In episode one my associate producer Nick McClendon spoke with Rebekah Fenton about Michael Tubb’s love of the power of the Spoken Word and the metaphor of Stockton’s rise from the ashes of Bankruptcy through Tupac Shakur's monumental poem The Rose That Grew From Concrete.
In this episode we feature the voice of Tama Brisbane a self described hip-hop midwife and long time friend of Michael Tubbs who appointed her as the City of Stockton’s first Poet Laureate. Tama with her husband Aaron founded With Our Words a nonprofit, slam poetry collective that has created safe spaces for young people to express themselves through written and spoken word and provided opportunities for at-risk youth to connect the dots between literacy, critical thinking, social action and community results. With Our Words trains young writers and creates performance opportunities for youth poets in Stockton, and the Central Valley such as their All-City Poetry Slam, Poetry Book Camp and Dream Out Loud. Tama and Aaron bring youth poets to spoken word competitions across the country which many of the With Our Words members have won.
Tama shares with Nick McClendon her experience of being the first Poet Laureate, meeting a young Michael Tubbs and working together on her Dream Out Loud event and With our Words work in the community to provide social-activism opportunities.
Show Host Nick: Hello, this is Nick McClendon with Executive Director of With Our Words Tama Brisbane. How are you Tama?
Show Guest Tama: I'm fine Nicholas. How are you?
Nick: I'm doing great. We are doing a. Interview for Michael Tubbs city councilman of Stockton California as well as mayoral candidate of the same city super excited as a Hometown kid to be covering the story. Where did you meet Michael Tubbs?
Tama: Oh, my goodness. I met Michael when he was 15. He was a sophomore at Franklin High School. And we were interviewing young Youth and Young adults for the Mayor's Youth Advisory Council and Michael was one of the interviewees. We were also in the process of putting together a group of young people, to go to Sacramento to participate in the Black Youth Leadership Project government day mock debate. And Michael was part of that contingent as well.
Nick: Okay, so you met him as a fifteen-year-old coming to With Our Words?
Tama: Yeah, and he's worked with us as ah poet. He worked inside of several of our spoken word productions in particular one that we do that the tribute to the life and spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King called Dream Out Loud. And Michael would voice Dr. King in the segment dedicated to letter in Birmingham letter from a Birmingham Jail.
Nick: Wow, wow, so he was so he actually went out in that role. Huh? And what is the main mission of With Our Words and who does it help?
Tama: Well, With Our Words is the leading presenter in the Central Valley of uh, programming using spoken word, slam poetry, literary and Performing Arts and the mission of Youth Development and Leadership.
Nick: Okay, so is it is it in Stockton or does it stretch to other parts of California?
Tama: We are based in Stockton, but we service youth and young adults throughout the Central Valley primarily. And in the course of that mission and I'll work. Oh, dating back to 2004 we've taken youth from here across the country.
They've performed with the Opera, Symphony, been featured on ah HBO DVD, toured with classical music, shared stages with jazz musicians, we have done a lot with this art form and the youth in our region.
Nick: So, with our words is definitely a cultural hub for the Central Valley your sort of an attraction for people to come in and cultivate their ideas.
Tama: Especially empowering Youth Voice through the Arts.
Nick: Okay, do you Tama Brisbane have a particular form of expressing art that you, sorta maybe even thrive in?
Tama: Well, I am in my second year as Stockton's first ever Poet Laureate. So this is my preferred art form, using voice, using the literary arts, writing social justice, critical thinking all of that flows through what we do and what I do.
Nick: And you think then with our words helped Michael sort of gain, at least the open public speaking footing that he has now to help his political career.
Tama: Oh, I definitely think that we had a small part to play in that. In making sure that Michael was exposed to broader stages. Taking him to Sacramento as part of the group to be part of a legislative day. Seeing with that environment was like. Involving him with the California Youth Think Tank with the, oh my goodness. I'm blanking on his name. Dr. William Allen Young doctor and actor and speech and debate forensic Guru.
He runs a think tank. At the, on the campus of USC, and Michael went there for a couple of years. We also got him involved with the Children's Defense Fund when they were doing an initiative here in California and that gave Michael a chance to interact with Marian Wright Edelman, and that was a love affair that I think still continues to this day.
Nick: For Michaels person, um in your opinion when you think he sees opportunity, where do you think his next steps are? Where is his plan of action in accordance of his reinvention plan for Stockton?
Tama: When Michael sees opportunities for Stockton, he's always looking for ways to make it reach the most people and do the most good for the longest period of time.
And that's the connection that he's always making. It’s a connection that he's always looking to make. It takes a lot of vision. But Michael also has the work ethic to back that vision up. That's one of the things I like about him.
Nick: How does a listener both young and old get involved with With Our Words?
Tama: Oh, that's easy, laughter... All you have to do. You can find us on Facebook at With Our Words. You can come through me Tama Brisbane. You can email us info at with our words dot o-r-g. You can call us at eight four four poet 209.
Nick: That's amazing. Thank you so much. One last question. What do you, kind of a big one, uh... What do you see Michael doing for Stockton?
Tama: No less than changing its history by making history. Michael will be the first black mayor of Stockton. He will be the youngest mayor of Stockton. He will come in with an energy, a local view, and a worldview that we haven't seen in this City, I don't think ever. And because he's not only a product of the best of the city but he's also a product of some of the more challenging aspects of growing up in this City. I think he's going to bring all of that to bear for the good of the City.
Nick: That gave me the chills Tama. Thank you so much. That was that was great. That was an amazing answer. Thank you so much Tama.
Tama: I'm leaving my kids so much. You have no idea.
Episode Break Show Host George: You are listening to Voices of the Community, which explores critical issues facing Northern California communities. This is George Koster your host and if you are just joining us, in this episode we are discussing the reinvention of the City of Stockton California. The next voice in this episode is Brandon Leake an associate of Tama and With Our Words alumni. Brandon is a spoken word poet who grew up in what Brandon calls the ghettos of South Stockton in a single parent household with his mother Carla Leake-Gibson. Brandon shares his passion for helping youth to find their voice and tell their story through the expression of poetry and spoken word. Brandon has created Called To Move which works with school age students between the grades of 7th-12th through spoken word poetry workshops, spoken word poetry performances, and engaging motivational presentations
Show Guest Brandon: Because so many people feel voiceless, but like I couldn't tell you how many times I'd be around like 30, 40 people and still feel completely alone. Completely misunderstood. And through poetry, I'm able to relay that loneliness and what's isolating me from other people. And in that they can better understand me.
George: Please tell the audience who you are?
Brandon: Brandon Leake
George: Brendon that was an amazing spoken word piece that you just started on the second annual resident Reinvest South Stockton summit. So, give the audience a little history why spoken word?
Brandon: So, I started writing spoken word in high school for girls who I thought were cute. And I then went to college and I met a man by the name of Micah Bournes and saw the impact and felt the impact that his words as a spoken word artist left on me. And after having the conversation with him, decided that it would probably be the best form of therapy. I could have to continue to write.
But, in the years of writing, you know, you do it for catharsis, but what I learned especially most recently is that I can use my writing as therapy for somebody else and as bridges for somebody else. Because we're all human beings with different experiences, but we have communities of people who have shared experiences who feel so low who feel alone.
And so, in that I chose spoken word, why actually I, I'd rather say that like I was divinely appointed for spoken word. And in that I've been able to free myself from a lot of the bondage I've had. And help connect bridges with others to lead them to freedom as well.
George: Why do you feel that words are so empowering?
Brandon: Because so many people feel voiceless. I was aaah, not a super popular kid in high school, but I was well known like everybody knew my name. But like I couldn't tell you how many times I'd be around like 30, 40 people and still feel completely alone, completely misunderstood. And through poetry I'm able to relay that loneliness and what's isolating me from other people and in that they can better understand me.
It has helped my social life because it's allowed me to be able to better relate with individuals. And then also even if we can't relate, they can better understand. And then empathize with what I'm going through and vice versa with other artists. I mean, whether it be painting poetry or whatever I'm able to better understand other people through their art and through their life stories and be able to love them exactly where they're at.
George: And so, you grew up in South Stockton?
George: How do you see the arts if you will, in South Stockton helping reinvent South Stockton?
Brandon: Laughter, for South Stockton man, it is really the silenced area of Stockton, like the red headed step child
George: What do you mean by that?
Brandon: All you ever hear about Southside Stockton is the negative aspects of it, the drugs, the crime, the gangs but you never hear about the beauty of it. You never hear about the triumphs of Southside Stockton. Like you'll maybe get that like one Comeback Kid story, but you you're about the kid in Southside Stockton who was straight A student doing well the entire time and then just graduated and then went off to college type of the thing.
You hear about the kid who messed up and then you know now they're on now, they're on a Road to Redemption type of a story. And so, I think that art will give those kids an opportunity to express what they want Southside Stockton to become. And then not only that express the beauty that they see. Because words have power. I really do believe that like in the same way that God spoke Earth into creation that we can speak life into this world. And what we can do with these words is Speak Life into Southside Stockton. Speak Life into what it will become, because the more people say it the more people believe it, the more it will change into what we want it to be.
And what it already is in some degrees. Because it's not this extremely negative place. It has its downfalls, but so does every place?
George: How would you like people in Stockton as well as people outside of Stockton who read oh, it went bankrupt, Forbes, you know voted it the worst city in the United States. I think it was two times running. You grow up here. You actually came back here it sounds like as well.
George: So why did you come back? And then what would you like people to understand about the Southside of Stockton?
Brandon: I came back because I didn't have a choice, laughter... I lost my job while I was in Redding California. And then I ended up back here in Stockton, but I really do believe it was the best thing for me. Grew so much as a man in that so much as an artist in that and better understanding that like it's no longer as a famous rapper once said "It is no longer about leaving the hood. It's about changing the hood". So yeah, like what I want people to see about Southside Stockton is that Southside Stockton won Stockton, California and All-America city award. A bunch of Southside Stockton kids and adults and products of that part of town went out to Denver Colorado performed a ten-minute spoken word piece, which I wrote half of it and choreographed all of it.
And we want an award for our City amongst hundreds who applied. I think they narrowed it down to 15 and only 10 could win. Some former criminals, some South Stockton students and some South Stockton graduates won that award. And it wasn't by chance that we won that award. It wasn't by luck. It was because we showed the true beauty of what Stockton holds.
And that's hope, that's light, that is community. That is unlike anywhere else.
George: So, do you feel like that created momentum within the community?
Brandon: I do... You know, your average citizen isn't going to hear a lot about that. They're not going to see that they might like to catch it on the news or read in the newspaper, they'll be like oh, you know, that's cool. But what that does is it created opportunity for more people to be willing to invest here in Stockton. To say Stockton is something that we want to see grow. And so, with that I know of several places here in town that have gotten more funding due to the fact that we won that award.
For instance, a company I work for, Child Abuse Prevention Council now adopted Head Start here in town. And they got a lot of grant funding from the state and federal government post us winning. To be able to continue Head Start and a lot of them are placed in South Stockton. So now we're getting daycares and educational centers for youth in that neighborhood for working-class families. And then not only that but, you see remodeling for school such as Edison, Franklin all Southside institutions. Something I would like to see more of though as I would like to see the City back its small business.
George: What would that look like?
Brandon: Investing in South Stockton in something more than liquor stores, something more than a Walgreens. Because you know, I love the fact that there's a Walgreens presence so that way people can potentially go get there, you know prescription drugs their things to that nature. But the price that it took was us losing a small business in Sno-White. And that hurts me because that was a staple of the community people went there on a regular to go eat and enjoy things like that.
And so, investing in that community in terms of like, okay, what do you guys see needs here being? And then providing those in the way of allowing for the people in that Community to work that out. And to be able to be employed in their own neighborhoods in their own communities. Community gardening, things of that nature, which I know Stockton and itself is working on. Like if you look at a San Joaquin County Public Health, they have a lot of programs that are trying to provide local Community Gardens for Southside of Stockton, so that way they can get fruits vegetables in their own neighborhoods. So, yeah keep the dollar in South Stockton.
George: You're obviously engaged in the reinvention of South Stockton. What would be some of the best outcomes? You've talked about small business, talked about fresh fruit vegetable, we talked a little bit about art. But you know, if you're looking five years down the road, what would be some of the best outcomes?
Brandon: Some of the best outcomes, and I'm going to do like realistic idea and then a dream idea.
My realistic idea would be that there are five new small businesses in South Stockton that are owned by people who live in South Stockton. That would be a revamping of the policing of South Stockton in terms of more Community engagement where people of South Stockton don't have to leave their Community to meet police officers.
And that would also be revamping of our educational system in South Stockton. So that way the people in the community are more involved in the education that their students are getting in terms of, you know, more access for the parents to the teachers and timing available for them to be able to meet. Because working-class families often times cannot meet at like 7:00 in the morning or 2:00 p.m. with the teacher because they're at work at that time.
Now, my dream idea, laughter... Would be that... Southside Stockton. Actually, this isn't even in a dream, this is this can most certainly be a reality. Southside Stockton could be loved and cared for without having to change who it is. Because so often times, you know, you hear this term gentrification. So often times, things are considered bad until they're gentrified, until they're turned into something that they never were. And so, I'd like for Stockton to keep its Rich history, while still being admired for it. Because too often times we only respect or revere something after it's gone. You see that with so many of our legends like Martin Luther King Jr. People don't understand he was hated, maligned and ridiculed while he was alive, and it was only after his death that we appreciated him as a nation. I mean like there is pockets of communities who really loved him.
George: So South Stockton doesn't have to die to be reborn.
George: It reinvents itself.
Brandon: Yep..., Hench "Reinvent South Stockton. So yeah, that's what I really want.
George: And last question, what is there about yourself that most people don't know.
Brandon: Oh, man, sigh... That I am very insecure. Um…
George: But here you are performing in front of a hundred or so or 200 people out there.
Brandon: Yeah, and that's a you know, a lot of people take that as confidence. It doesn't take confidence to do that. It just takes practice. You know if you practice anything enough you can you can go up there and do it. But what I would like people to know about me, is that despite my insecurities. I still go out there and I try.
I still go out there and I put my best foot forward every day and I try to be the best example of who God wants me to be every single day. And so, with that, what I would like for people to know is that I am not some type of anomaly. I'm not some type of chosen one or a select few. I'm an everyday person. Just like everybody else and anybody can be like me if they so choose. And in that it is up to us to continue to foster that in people.
George: Thank you.
Brandon: Thank you.
Episode Outro: That’s, it for this episode of voices of the community. You have been listening to the voices of Tama Brisbane the co-founder and executive director of With Our Words and Brandon Leake an award winning Spoken Word Artist. Tama and Brandon’s art and work are all part of Stocktonians efforts to change the decades of negative narrative into a healing and empowering narrative which perhaps one day in the words of Tama, will help Stockton to learn to love itself.
Series Outro: Voices of the community as a labor of love. This documentary series on the City of Stockton's reinvention is a tribute to my mother Josephine Koster Wiley 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 email@example.com I'm George Koster in San Francisco and thank you for listening.
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