Teny Gross is a former Israeli Army sergeant and Harvard Divinity School graduate who worked in the anti-violence campaign known as the Boston Ceasefire. During the 1990s, Gross was active in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston doing community outreach, gang mediation, job creation, and skills training. Gross also taught kids to document their lives with photography.
In 2000, leaders at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Providence launched the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence and hired Gross as its director in 2001. Gross’s approach to replacing the cycle of violence was to merge the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolence principles and practices with his work in Boston.
The approach calls for creating partnerships with the police and community groups to identify the small number of people who commit violent crime and deliver the message: If you shoot, we’ll come after you, but if you reject violence, we’ll help you.
Gross built the Rhode Island nonprofit from a few unpaid nonviolence trainers into a $1.2-million agency with a 28-member team before leaving at the end of 2016.
At the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, Gross’s holistic approach combines individualized service provision and wraparound support with a collaborative street outreach strategy. The Institute brings together outreach workers, case managers, victim advocates, nonviolence trainers, and a community organizer to carry the message of nonviolence to street corners, classrooms, and prison cells.
“I’ve been both a victim of violence through [the legacy of] the Holocaust and then was top dog when it came to the Palestinians. I’m part of the weak and part of the strong; that’s a very humbling experience,” Gross told Harvard magazine.
“I always see things through the eyes of the kids and through the eyes of the police. Keeping those tensions in your head — some people would say that is what makes you good at this kind of work.”