Ron Mitchell and Mike King have collaborated to produce “The Roxbury Unseen Success Project,” a series of documentaries focused on the achievements of African Americans in Boston. (Joe Johnson photo)
When people think of Roxbury, the last thing that comes to mind is business and organizational success or the phrase, “Roxbury is rich!”
But rich it is.
One relevant example is The Roxbury Unseen Success Project, a series of documentaries about successful Roxburians like Beth Williams, CEO of the Roxbury Technology Corporation — a major supplier of toner to the multi-billion dollar Staples Corporation; or Ken and Lisa Guscott of Longbay Management Company — one of the leading partners in the development of the office tower at One Lincoln Street where State Street Corporation is headquartered.
The first documentary in the series premiered before a packed Hibernian Hall last month.
“The Roxbury Unseen Success Project” is a joint project of RDM Productions and the South End Technology Center that focuses on the milestones that Roxbury has made in what is considered the six primary categories used to evaluate community progress.
“If you look at Roxbury as an urban area,” said producer Ron Mitchell, “it actually far exceeds most urban areas in the country in the primary categories of business, education, health, political empowerment, arts and entertainment, and parks and recreation.
“But if you listen to the general commercial messages that come out about Roxbury,” Mitchell noted, “it’s about crime and poverty and we know that’s not what Roxbury is all about. Roxbury’s footprint affects the whole world, and that’s what this message is about.”
Mitchell, a 25-year veteran of the broadcast television industry, says the idea for the series was partly inspired by the highly successful, Boston-based “Phantom Gourmet.” The show started when its producer, David Andelman, the son of sports talk radio host Eddie Andelman, purchased on-air time for the show.
“That show gave me a business model that I could use, and so I ran out and put together a team and I created The Unseen TV, which was a commercial television show that ran in 2007. We created RDM Productions, an incorporated company and partnered with a corporate law firm to create 10 million shares of stock for the company,” Mitchell concluded.
His team created one season of “The Unseen TV,” totaling nine original shows that featured Theo Epstein, Heather Walker, Earl Graves Sr. and Jr., Kanye West, and Roxbury native Hassan Smith who leads a security company that has partnered with popular R&B singer John Legend.
“The premise of the The Unseen TV was to tell stories of really successful people that nobody knew,” Mitchell explained. “We wanted to show our viewers that success wasn’t the bling. You don’t have to be a gangster; you don’t have to be a rap star, or an athlete to have success. You could be a responsible person and you could have fun doing it.”
Mitchell went on. “Every episode had a “bling factor” that looked at what these successful people did in their spare time,” he said. “Some people like to surf. So we took an underwater camera and we went to Baja. Some people like to ski; some people like to kayak, so we put our anchorman in a kayak with a mic and we kayaked with Heather Walker who works for the Celtics.”
In 2008, Mitchell said they got a finance deal that went to term but when the economy went south, it took the funds with it.
“A year after that,” said Mitchell, “I sat down with Mike King of the South End Technology Center, who is director of photography on the project, and we started talking and brainstorming on how we could use film and video to help our community become more economically active. Mike said he liked the television show and wanted to continue working on that. So together we came up with the idea for the Roxbury Unseen Success Project, and we looked around for grants and found a request for proposals for funding that the Roxbury Trust Fund put out to support projects that would work as economic development tools for Roxbury.”
Funding from the Trust made it possible for The Roxbury Unseen Success Project to create three documentaries on the unpopular success stories of Roxbury and the dynamic characters behind them.
The first documentary on business success received a standing ovation at the premier. In a little less than an hour, this video presents an intimate look at CEO Beth Williams of Roxbury Technology engaged with her staff, and Longbay Management’s co-founder Ken Guscott as he talks about his legacy and the importance of empowering a younger generation of leaders, such as his daughter, Longbay’s CEO Lisa Guscott.
The documentary also provides a glimpse into the life of restaurateur Darryl Settles as he sits in his favorite room at home and discusses the indelible impression that his father left on him as a child. Businessman Kirk Sykes shares his recipe for success, and while Dunkin Donuts franchise owner Clayton Turnbull likes to give to charities, he would rather see more for-profit ventures emerge in urban communities rather than nonprofits that seem to promote a co-dependency.
And last, but not least, City Life’s founders Sheldon and Glenn Lloyd talk about being youths in Roxbury and wanting to create a business that would have a multi-generational impact.
Overall, this first documentary captures honest stories about people driven by the desire to create a more commercially viable infrastructure within their neighborhoods that could both employ and service not just Roxbury, but the world.
“When we talk about economic development, we are talking about investing and what drives people to a marketplace and what makes them want to invest in or live in an area,” says Mike King. “We are trying to project Roxbury as a place to invest in and a place to grow a business and a family.”
While the team has completed the first three documentaries within the series, funding is needed to support the production costs of the remaining three. The second documentary focuses on the arts and entertainment and includes an in depth look into the history and makings of Black Nativity, the Beantown Jazz Festival, Urban Nutcracker, Roxbury International Film Festival, the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists and the historic Wally’s Jazz Bar.
The third features educational success stories, such as Roxbury Community College, the Nathan Hale Elementary School, South End Technology Center and Roxbury Preparatory Charter School.
The project does not just provide documentaries, but also includes accompanying companion and education tools for schools, libraries and individuals to use to replicate and/or create new models that can help urban areas across the country become more successful.
“There will be a packet that people can use and that will include the tips that these successful people and businesses have used to make it,” said Lynn DuVal Luse, president and creative director of NIAmedia. “So the companion tools are really the most important things that we can bring to this so that people can figure out how to make success work for them despite being seen or unseen.”
The pre-broadcast premiere of the second of three television programs showcasing Roxbury’s unseen success will train its lens on great arts, entertainment and personal success stories.
The event will be held on Wednesday, December 22 at Roxbury Center for Arts at Hibernian Hall. A minimum donation of $5 per person will help support efforts to develop additional documentaries celebrating keys to success in Urban America.