A new documentary, “A Reckoning in Boston” tells the story of systemic oppression, resilience, and the power of community-based solutions.
The film is written, directed, and edited by nonfiction filmmaker James Rutenbeck and produced by activist and Founder of the Common Good Cooperative Kafi Dixon and Boston resident Carl Chandler.
Six years ago, when Rutenbeck first embarked on his film, he sought to follow students engaged in the Clemente Course in the Humanities — an educational program developed for those who have faced homelessness, were previously incarcerated, or faced barriers to a college education.
But during the course, Rutenbeck meets students Dixon and Chandler, and over time, he begins to look more critically at the racist and misogynistic structures that oppress communities of color.
Rutenbeck tells Food Tank that Dixon, “helped me look beneath the surface of the city of Boston. I love Boston, I’ve always loved it, but I didn’t really understand it.”
The film follows Dixon as she works to build the Common Good Cooperative, Boston’s first urban farming co-op, and an equity based initiative for women of color. It explores Dixon’s vision for a community-driven solution that supports self-sufficiency as well as the resistance the project faces.
Dixon explains that the project exists to teach Black women about cooperative equity and its ability to act as a stabilizing force in communities. “The co-op is merely me as a co-op developer, as a farmer, as an agriculturalist, as an environmentalist saying to the women, ‘you have the power to save yourselves,’” she tells Food Tank.
Despite these intentions, Dixon and Rutenbeck highlight the backlash that the project faced as city actors sought to deter the development of the co-op.
“The shocking thing for me, and the thing that took me so long to understand, was why it was so difficult for something so noble and idealistic to get off the ground. Why was everyone putting up obstacles?” Rutenbeck asks.
These challenges came not only from the city government, but also from foundations and nonprofit organizations, that sought to control the project and remove agency from the community members.
Dixon explains that she opened up to Rutenbeck and allowed his film to document her experiences so he could witness these challenges.
“You need to understand how we’re denied equity. You need to understand the fear of women of color being solution-based in their community,” Dixon tells Food Tank.
Even in the face of these challenges, and after years of effort, Dixon was able to launch the Common Good Cooperative. And during COVID-19, the co-op was able to produce more than 270 kilograms (600 pounds) of fresh produce and deliver it to neighboring families.
But for this work and other similar projects to continue, Dixon stresses that communities need more resources, space, and time to develop their own solutions. And, she says organizations need to see “economic development as a true form of sustainability.”
“A Reckoning in Boston” premiered at Big Sky Documentary Film Festival this week. The film will continue its launch at film festivals and other venues across the country through 2021, and will air on next season of PBS flagship series Independent Lens.
Those interested in supporting the Common Good Cooperative can do so by supporting their upcoming membership drive by visiting their website. For more information about the documentary, visit areckoninginboston.com.
Image courtesy of A Reckoning in Boston