Boston prides itself on being prosperous and progressive. So why are white people the ones disproportionately prospering? And what barriers to prosperity does the city put before Black Bostonians? Those are the questions at the center of the documentary film, "A Reckoning in Boston."
The film follows the journey of Boston resident Kafi Dixon who set out to bring healthy produce to her community in Dorchester. According to 2021 census data, 18% of households in Dorchester are food insecure. The neighborhood, despite many recent and upcoming changes, is still considered by many to be a food desert.
With some business and farming experience under her belt, Dixon opened Milk and Honey Produce Market — a fruit and vegetable stand similar to those at the iconic Haymarket — at Dorchester's Ashmont Station. But social and political roadblocks appeared. And soon after its debut, she had to shut down her stand.
Dixon says the setback made her consider whether or not Boston was a place she could flourish. "I started thinking about what my wellbeing in Boston looked like, and what it looked like for other women of color," she told Radio Boston. "I thought [I should] leave Boston and go to Vermont to start a rural farming enterprise. [But] I realized that a lot of women ... who I grew up with in my community did not have that same privilege."
So Dixon stuck it out. And eventually, she founded the Common Good Cooperative, an urban farming group made up of women of color that grew and donated 500 pounds of free produce to local families and seniors during the pandemic.
Hers is one of several stories featured in the documentary by director James Rutenbeck. "A Reckoning in Boston" also traces the experience of third-generation Bostonian Carl Chandler who sees himself as poor but not impoverished, and also offers a meta-analysis by Rutenbeck — a white man — on his own privilege in making of the film. The three meet through the Clemente Course in Humanities.
In 2021, Radio Boston host Tiziana Dearing spoke with Dixon, who worked as a producer on the film, and Rutenbeck, the director.
On the original mission:
Dixon: "My vision was to go to Vermont or Western Mass., take my savings and buy land [to] farm as an experienced farmer. I always go to land for peace, [and] I was trying to create a safe space [for Black and brown women]. But [with] the oppression that Black women experience in Boston ... A lot of this documentary... [is] really about misunderstanding Black and brown people and their needs."
On starting her farming initiative in Boston Harbor’s Thompson Island:
Dixon: "I'm always going back to Thompson's Island. What I was trying to do by not asking the city initially for land, but taking land — was [creating a safe space]. The lack of inclusive integration into economic development, business development and neighborhood development demanded, at least in my perspective, a safe space for women who were like me."
On bringing Dixon on as a producer:
Rutenbeck: "The more time I spent with [film subjects Dixon and Chandler], the more compelling I found their stories. I realized at a certain point as I witnessed evictions, housing court, welfare agencies, and the day-to-day obstacles and chaos ... I was not really equipped to mediate their stories.
"So, at a certain point, we shifted and I brought Kafi and Carl on as producers. We're friends. And when you see your friends put into these kinds of situations, it requires a response. I could no longer just be the observational filmmaker."
On what still needs to be done now that she’s farming the land:
Dixon: "We still don't have equity in this land. We are developing, doing community design, raising funds ... still searching for co-op members. To make this project foundational, so that the space can continue to exist past my time here in the community, we have a long way to go."
Read an in-depth interview with Dixon from WBUR’s Barbara Moran here.
This segment aired on May 6, 2021.