Award-winning activist rapper Common vows to boost efforts in Stockton


STOCKTON — The room was brimming with community leaders and their ideas about issues facing Stockton, and rapper Common and his nonprofit Imagine Justice were ready to listen.

Mayor Michael Tubbs hosted Common and a cohort of organizers on Friday at City Hall for a discussion about ways to move Stockton forward. The event was part of a packed agenda of talks and meetings for the artist, which culminated with the free Imagine Justice concert, which included a program dedicated to empowering the audience.

“Common, you have around the table, some of the most amazing people,” Tubbs said of the various leaders gathered at the meeting.

The people in the room represented organizations, such as Rise Stockton, the California Endowment and Empowering Marginalized Asian Communities, that are working on gender equity, economic justice, criminal justice reform, as well as education and environmental justice. In the hourlong meeting, they spoke openly about schools, incarceration and poverty, and some of the initiatives already in place.

Sammy Nuñez, executive director of Fathers & Families of San Joaquin, called Stockton “ground zero” of the recession and mortgage meltdown. He said he looks at the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED) program as a tool to reinvest in the community and show the rest of the world how they can tackle the problem.

It’s important that the city build on this idea and scale up these initiatives, he told Common.

SEED, a program initiated by Tubbs that gives certain residents $500 a month for 18 months, is intended to be a solution for the poverty that’s rampant in the city, explained Sukhi Samra, executive director of SEED.

Other topics touched on were education and criminal justice, and how the two overlapping lead to what they said is the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

The way Stockton Scholars is addressing the issue is by raising funds for its scholarship and increasing parent engagement, she said.

Bobby Bivens, president of Stockton’s NAACP chapter, also emphasized during the meeting the importance of families taking ownership and parents being involved.

“If parents don’t get engaged and become knowledgeable, then there’s no chance for the kids,” he said.

Engagement also was on the mind of the Rev. Trena Turner, who is the executive director of Faith in the Valley.

During a moment when Common stepped out of the meeting, Turner said they need to find a way to build relationships with people so they can share their message and get people to move away from how things were done in the past.

“If we don’t find a way to integrate these messages, we’re never going to bring anyone on board to move the policies that we need to move,” she said.

The meeting, which also explored the possibility of building a public university in Stockton, served as an opportunity for Common to learn more about the work being done in Stockton and how his nonprofit can help the progress.

Gathering for Justice Executive Director Carmen Perez, whose organization facilitated the day’s sessions, said Friday was an important day for the city and added that she was proud of Stockton native Jasmine Dellafosse for bringing the groups together so they collaborate in an intentional way.

“I’m excited about the conversation that is going to continue beyond this meeting,” she said.

Common, who is the first rapper to win a Grammy, Emmy, Golden Globe and Academy Award, said he is reinvigorated to see what is being done in Stockton and by Tubbs’ leadership, and added that he was in the city to “be a conduit.”

“You all have done the work for us and now it’s just about giving us the marching orders and I’ll do everything we can within our space to contribute to Stockton,” he told the group. “I do have an affinity and connection to the city.”

Tubbs said he was grateful to Common and Imagine Justice for their time and “not just come in for a flyover, but to come and really plant and root themselves here.”

“There’s so much good that is happening,” he said. “I think this is validation that we’re not where we need to be but we’re moving in the right direction.”