‘Groove City’ film shows need for honesty, healing

Submitted photo
Music fans danced in front of the stage during a Groove City Culture Fest, held on Pine Street in Cambridge.

CAMBRIDGE — “You Don’t Know Nothin’ Bout Groove City,” a 60-minute documentary produced by WHCP Radio in conjunction with a community advisory committee, debuted at the Dorchester Center for the Arts on Feb. 29. For more than an hour, a standing room crowd of more than 250 people watched the story of Cambridge’s identity as “Groove City” unfold on the screen. And for an hour afterward, the audience participated in a frank discussion on race relations in Dorchester.

The powerful documentary was a labor of faith and fortitude for Cesar Gonzalez, pastor of the Cambridge Seventh-Day Adventist Church and WHCP board member. Gonzalez — along with the rest of the board — only learned about Cambridge’s rich musical history when the station opened at 516 Race St. and named a companion performance space “Groove City Studio.”

Sparks dialog on race
The studio name sparked a debate among members of the city’s African-American community who printed T-shirts proclaiming, “You don’t know nothing about Groove City.” A flood of commentary and criticism soon followed on social media as the board quickly discovered that Cambridge’s Black community rebuked the idea that the “white part of town” had any claim to the Groove City moniker.
After speaking with many people who had posted on social media, Gonzalez realized that a lack of knowledge and understanding was at the root of conflict. WHCP founder Mike Starling invited community leaders Jermaine Anderson and Adrian Green of Alpha Genesis to meet with the board.

“We had a wide-ranging conversation about Cambridge’s history and understood how we had unknowingly claimed a piece of that heritage by naming the studio based on a narrative the white community didn’t own,” said Gonzalez. “Cambridge earned the name Groove City. We have to talk about the city’s history, about Pine Street. Cambridge can be a leader in race relations and there’s a growing group of people including the Eastern Shore Network for Change and Alpha Genesis, who are dedicated to this.”

During the meeting, Green suggested, “It would be great to have something to tell the story.” That something was intended to be a five-minute video.

Feature film
With experience producing live-to-tape videos, Gonzalez volunteered to manage the project. A subcommittee of residents and subject matter experts provided advice, content and context to ensure an accurate narrative.
Once underway, a bigger story requiring more filming quickly unfolded. With his nephew Didier Brival serving as Director of Photography, production swelled to over a year.
And, while it was hard at times to find people willing to sit down and talk about racism, Gonzalez said the resulting conversations were incredible. More than 30 hours of interviews were transcribed, providing a rich and robust historical record.

Eastern Shore Network for Change founders Dion Banks and Kisha Petticolas are interviewed in the documentary.
By the time a 40-minute cut was shown to the board, the film wasn’t finished and there was still a lot of work to do.
After 18 months — and now 60 minutes long — the documentary debuted. Produced for only $6,500 (none of which went to Gonzalez), and thanks to the support of individual and organization donations, Gonzalez is making additional edits to reflect current events and evolving impact of the Black Lives Matter movement.

He is very clear that while the film is about Cambridge’s Black history, it was made for White people. As a person of color, this Panamanian-born and Miami-raised Latino brought a unique perspective to the project.
“I could see from my dealings with both sides of the community that each were ignorant of one another’s lives. People share moments, but their experiences and lives are vastly different. We have to educate our community and provide the background for understanding and healing.”
Future screenings
Organizers originally planned to host numerous showings at community, faith and business organizations. But the screenings were shuttered during the quarantine.

“You Don’t Know Nothin’ Bout Groove City” was unanimously selected in May as an official entry for the 13th Annual Chesapeake Film Festival (online, Oct. 1-4). Gonzalez hopes to schedule future screenings for the community and is hoping to find a film distributor.
This article originally appeared on choosedorchester.com, the website of the Dorchester County Economic Development Office at 104 Tech Park Drive, Cambridge. For information, call 410-228-0155 or email info@ChooseDorchester.org.