BOSTON (CBS) – Chief William Gross remembers when he moved to 32 Esmond Street in Dorchester from a farm in Maryland with his mother and two sisters when he was 12 years old.
It was 1975, and the city was in the middle of busing, and race relations were at an all-time low.
“Boston was in turmoil,” Gross remembers. “My mother would say, ‘Don’t go to Southie because there are people that don’t like you.’ I’m sure the kids from South Boston were told the same thing.”
On Thursday, a man from South Boston, William Evans, was named Commissioner of the Boston Police, and Evans named Gross to be the first African American Superintendent in Chief of the department, the #2 person on the force. Evans said naming Gross to the Chief position is his first, and likely will be the best decision he will make as Commissioner. “He is well respected by the community which I’m sure you are well aware, and he is well respected by the troops.”
“Before this wouldn’t have been possible, because of the culture in the city at the time,” Gross says.
Gross credits his “parents” with helping him to be where he is today: “My single mother, and my neighborhood,” he explains. He says, “It was a pretty rough neighborhood in some areas, so we looked out for each other… Each set of parents worked long hours and we have to look out for each other.”
Gross says when he moved to Boston, his mother introduced him to Harry and Dennis Wilson, who coached the Boston Raiders, and were male role models to him. He says he was also inspired by the veterans who lived in his building, and taught him about the Tuskegee Airmen.
Gross sees his experience growing up in a close knit neighborhood as inspiration for his goals to reduce violence in the city. “Bring back that village concept, look out for each other’s children before we have to meet at the hospital, a funeral home, or a jail. This can be avoided.”
Now, he’s excited to get to work.
“I do appreciate the historical value,” he says, “It’s never impossible to achieve your dreams.”