from Joe’s team at CTCluster:
Joe passed away on April 25, 2013. He died peacefully in his sleep a day after undergoing surgery to remove a tumor. He was 72 years old. Joe grew up outside Detroit, MI. He graduated from Howard University in Washington, D.C. with a BA. He was the son of Joseph and Margaret Gross. Both of his parents were teachers and later his father became an executive with the Boy Scouts of America. His maternal grandmother began teaching in Chicago in 1917, and became the second African-American to be named a principal in the Chicago Unified School District.
Joe was committed to the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s and in 1963 he worked on voter registration drives with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in McComb County, Mississippi. In 1970 he traveled to Tanzania where he worked for two years. He moved to Berkeley, CA in 1978 where he continued to be involved in civil rights issues. He joined Berkeley Citizens’ Action, served as its coordinator, and helped re-elect Gus Newport as Mayor of Berkeley. He was also on the executive board of the Oakland Berkeley Chapter of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition.
In 1986, he was elected to the Berkeley School Board. During that time he worked in the food industry, as the managing director of the Berkeley Distribution Cooperative, and later for a non-profit in San Francisco that addressed the needs of youth. In 1987 he became executive director of Neighborhood House of North Richmond, where he served for over 3 years, and then he was the founding coordinator of EDGE: The Alliance of Ethnic and Environmental Organizations.
In 1993, Joe formed a partnership with James Nixon and the two of them started Sustainable Systems, Inc., a company specializing in building regional initiatives to accomplish sustainable economic development. In 1996, Sustainable Systems joined with the City of Oakland to launch the Communications Technology Cluster, a business incubator for communications related businesses. In 1999, Sustainable Systems became the lead consultant to the Bay Area Council for the Bay Area Family of Funds, helping to build four investment funds, with over $240 million in capital, to invest in low and moderate income neighborhoods in the Bay Area.
Joe’s work took him to Asia, Palestine, Ghana, South Africa, and throughout the US. He played a major role in helping to develop an investment fund in Shreveport LA and to develop a major mixed-use, mixed-income real estate development there. He served as treasurer of the Oakland-based Alliance for Community Development and a board member of the Center for Neighborhood Technology located in Chicago, IL.
In 2006 he became a founding board member of the California Emerging Technology Fund, working to bridge the digital divide in California. He collaborated in launching Get Connected! Oakland. In 2012, Sustainable Systems became the lead consultant to the East Bay Broadband Consortium. At the time of his death, he was centrally involved in launching Get Connected! East Bay.
Joe was an athlete his whole life. As a young man, he was a swimmer and a champion wrestler. As an adult, he was an advanced martial artist. As he got older, he became an avid hiker. For many years he hiked in Tilden Park. He loved having Tilden Park in the neighborhood. He used to start his hikes at the crack of dawn. One of his other favorite places to hike was Desolation Wilderness in the Lake Tahoe area where he and his wife vacationed every year. He said that his love of the outdoors was developed early in life through the Boy Scouts.
He was well known for his barbequing skills. (Always mesquite, never charcoal.)
He was into his fifth year of studying with a Sacred Contract spiritual study group, which brought him a great deal of satisfaction and spiritual growth and helped him form life-long friendships with members of the group.
He met his wife of 22 years, Erlinda Castro, when they were both volunteers with the Rainbow Coalition. Together they went to Mexico City in 1999 and Oaxaca in 2003, where he loved climbing Aztec ruins. They had a morning ritual that they stuck to religiously where Joe would insist on making French press coffee and they would visit with each other before beginning their respective day’s work. They were as politically compatible as two people could be. Because of Joe’s illness their social life changed; however, movie matinees were still something they could do. It is fitting that the last movie they saw on April 21, 2013, was “The Company You Keep.”
In December 2011 Joe was diagnosed with an incurable, untreatable disease, which impacted his heart and kidneys and compromised his strength and stamina. It was necessary for him to go on dialysis three times a week.
Nonetheless, he still went to Tilden to hike 4 to 6 times a week, and with his trusty walking pole he would walk between 1.5 to 2.5 hours each time. He was ecstatic the first time he was able to hike the perimeter of Lake Anza. It brought him enormous joy to still be able to hike in spite of his illness. After talking about it for several years, in November, 2012, Joe requested that he and Erlinda go to Yosemite. It was his first time.
In spite of his illness, Joe returned to work part-time earlier this year, which brought him great happiness.
In addition to Erlinda, Joe is survived by his daughter, Janel Gross, his son and daughter in law, Jawanza and Francoise Gross, his daughter and son in law, Tamu and Maniang Seck and his step daughter and son in law, Maria Dolores and Jose Menjivar. He is also survived by his grandchildren, Jason Wright, Jasmine, Justine and Joseph III Gross, Madeline and Fatouja Seck, and Maricella Menjivar.
He fought for life from the very beginning of his illness. He never gave up and firmly believed he would be around a few more years. He was an inspiration to those who saw him fight the good fight every day. Plans are being arranged to install a bench in his memory in his beloved Tilden Park, hopefully along one of his favorite trails.
Anyone interested may make a donation toward the memorial bench.