CHICAGO – December 11, 2021

Mary Gonzales, co-founder of Gamaliel Foundation received the Kenneth W. Bensen Award for Excellence in Contextual Leadership from the OMNIA Institute for Contextual Leadership at its 5th Birthday party held on Zoom.

Ms. Mary Gonzales

“Mary Gonzales is one of the world’s foremost Community Organizers and trainers,” said Dr. Shanta Premawardhana, President of OMNIA. “She is the one who mentored me and many others in the methods of building power. It is her training that we are able to take out to the world, especially to marginalized communities around the world that are experiencing religious extremism.”

Gonzales and her husband Gregory Galluzzo are co-founders of Gamaliel Foundation, one of the foremost community organizing and training networks in the United States with affiliates in South Africa and the UK. During the 1990s she led an effort to create a Chicago area-wide congregational network called Metropolitan Alliance of Congregations, which, at its height had 123 churches. More recently, she was engaged in building organizations in California, particularly in Oakland and the Bay area.

OMNIA’s training centered on three pillars: collaboration across diversities, building power and strategic action is based on Gamaliel’s training methods, and modified to suit each international and religious context.

“This is a special day for me” said Dr. Larry Greenfield, OMNIA’s board chair as he presented the award. “I’ve always admired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stephens. One day I met him on the Midway at University of Chicago. He looked at me and said, ‘And what are you interested in?’ He was trying to discover my self-interest, like you have taught us. That was an unforgettable day. Today is too. Because of your wisdom, insight and understanding of the development of power. That can change the world.”

Ms. Mary Gonzales with Dr. Larry Greenfield and Dr. Shanta Premawardhana

“I was trained by some very skilled people” responded Mary Gonzales, “like Greg Galluzzo. And I feel compelled to pass on that gift to other people. I feel privileged that others are benefitting from it, and to have that acknowledged. I am delighted to accept this award, not only on behalf of my husband and I, but on behalf of all the wonderful people, the great leaders that we have trained over the years.”

The Kenneth W. Bensen Award for Excellence in Contextual Leadership was established in 2017 with the formation of OMNIA. Rev. Dr. Bensen is a member of OMNIA’s board of directors and its former board chair. He is the retired Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity in Michigan with decades of experience in the building affordable housing.

Previous recipients of the award include Bishop Munib Younan (2020), Ms. Cheryl Hammock (2019), Ms. Suzanne Morgan (2018) and Rev. Dr.Kenneth W. Bensen (2017).

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OMNIA Institute for Contextual Leadership is a Chicago-based global network of Interfaith Peacemaker Teams, equipping religious leaders and people of faith to counter religious extremism and religion-based oppression, domination and violence.

 

Shanta Premawardhana

President

Shanta Premawardhana is president of OMNIA Institute for Contextual Leadership. Prior to OMNIA, he served as the Director for Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation at the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland. He was also the Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations at the National Council of Churches, USA. While serving as pastor of Ellis Avenue Church in Chicago, he engaged in community organizing in the Southside of Chicago. He is an emeritus trustee of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, National Council of Churches, USA, and Common Cause Illinois. He earned his Ph.D. at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

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