WIN Pacesetter Story: Stockton, California

Published By
Community Commons

The Pacesetter Stories series features the leadership of people across the country who confront challenges and enrich well-being in a way that is inclusive of everyone. Learn more about how communities are creating legacies for intergenerational well-being with the Well Being in the Nation (WIN) Network. 


Stockton is a city of over 300,000 diverse residents located in northern California’s Central Valley on the San Joaquin Delta. In the mid-1840s, the city grew as a supplier to gold rush miners and then in the 1930s reinvented itself as a shipping port for agricultural and manufactured goods. Since the 1930s the city has been impacted across all social determinants of health by the repercussion of red lining practices. In the past two decades, Stockton has been a perennial candidate for “Most Dangerous” or “Most Miserable” city in U.S. lists by popular publications. New leadership and an engaged base of community members and cross-sector stakeholders are turning things around.


For decades, residents of south Stockton have suffered the impacts of poverty and crime fostered by institutionalized racism, local government corruption, and years of financial abandonment. Many residents, particularly communities of color, reported that they didn’t feel like they belonged in Stockton and didn’t feel welcome in the city. In 2011, Stockton became the largest U.S. city at the time to declare bankruptcy, creating a power vacuum that resulted in an opportunity for residents and civic leaders to disrupt the power structure and support the ideas and hopes of new and bold leaders like 28-year old Mayor Michael Tubbs.


With an appreciation for the historic roots of the challenges residents of South Stockton face every day, coalition building and civic engagement efforts began 4 years ago. Based on a  “2050 Vision”, the Reinvent South Stockton Coalition has organized and enhanced efforts to transform community through improving safety, education, health, housing, jobs, and community engagement. A distributive leadership model across the public, private, and nonprofit partners have allowed the Collaborative to initiate systems change and policy development across sectors. This has paved the way for sustainable models for change, such as a cradle-to-career pathway, community advocacy and trust building program, and trauma-informed systems plan.


Graduates from South Stockton typically indicate a desire to live elsewhere upon graduation from college. This was driven by the lack of job opportunities, housing, safe neighborhoods, and a sense that they didn’t belong. At last year’s high school graduation – for the first time – students reported that they look forward to returning to the city. The youth of South Stockton are beginning to see the spirit of change and the opportunity to contribute to making a difference. Graduates from the last two years participated in College Signing Day, celebrating their decisions to attend college, trade school or the armed forces. Last year, youth advocates also successfully led the charge to the Stockton Unified School District to offer ethnic and local studies courses at high schools in an effort to improve equity and civic engagement efforts. This year, they advocated for more academic and behavioral health counselors at schools and initiated restorative practices in several schools.

“The Reinvent South Stockton Movement is youth-led and is creating a new narrative of hope and optimism for the city.” – Hector Lara, Reinvent Stockton, Co-Founder


With a philosophy of innovation, collaboration, and a commitment to investing in people, Stockton’s efforts to reinvent itself are gaining traction. Leaders are creating structures to build a culture of engagement, implementing trauma-informed care strategies and reconciliation programs with local law enforcement to help residents heal from decades of trauma and violence. Philanthropic investors have also partnered with Stockton to initiate the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, one of the first guaranteed income projects in the nation, and the Stockton Scholars initiative, which guarantees that all graduating seniors for the next 10 years have funds for higher education. If this year’s All-American City Award from the National Civic League is any indication, Stockton will go far in its community-building efforts for generations well into the future.