Forty years ago today, Detroit blew up. Literally. It was as if a bomb of hostility, frustration, anger and disregard for life and property was dropped on the city, causing what was at that time, the most destructive riot in U.S. history. It wasn’t until 1992 that Los Angeles took that notoriety from Detroit.
When it was over five days later, 43 people were dead, hundreds more injured and big chunks of the city had lost most of its businesses and buildings to looting and fires. Those were bad times for Detroit and two people decided to do something about it.
The late Fr. William Cunningham, a young catholic priest from Detroit, and Eleanor Josaitis led a small group of individuals and companies to form a new organization that they hoped would help people cope and overcome the core issues that lead to the riots.
They named the organization Focus: HOPE, and one of the most innovative, influential and successful civil rights and charitable organizations in Detroit’s history was born. From www.focushope.edu:
Focus: HOPE, a civil and human rights organization founded in 1968 by Fr. William T. Cunningham (1930-1997) and Eleanor M. Josaitis, began as the decision of several people to face an acute social and moral crisis. The 1967 riot left metropolitan Detroit sharply divided along racial lines. By early 1968, shock had deepened into bitterness and hostility. New words described the new reality: polarization, white backlash, black militancy, flight.
It was in this atmosphere that the Focus: HOPE co-founders felt compelled to make a difference. They wrote a mission statement and inspired a movement. The material resources available to them were minimal. But the human resources – extraordinary people from all walks of life with a dedication to the ideal of brotherhood, with courage and determination to endure – proved abundant. Focus: HOPE was born, and remains, a movement of minds, hearts, and wills committed to "intelligent and practical action to overcome racism, poverty and injustice."
Since it’s inception, Focus: HOPE has created a machinist training center, an engineering training program and most recently, an information technologies training center. Each of these serves people who most likely would never have received the training without Focus: HOPE.
Thousands of Detroiters have benefited from Focus: HOPE and become financially independent. I hope the organization lives on for years, both as a testament to Rev. Cunningham, a man who devoted his entire life to helping others, and to help a still-struggling Detroit rebuild. Without question, Focus: Hope has been a bright spot in a sometimes desolate and despairing situation in Detroit. There is a saying, "What you focus on you will find." Exactly as the name reads, the folks at Focus: HOPE focus on hope and they find it.
The DIFF salutes Focus: HOPE for community service and a dedication to helping people succeed. The people of Focus: HOPE have made a tremendous difference in the lives of many people around Detroit and its surrounding communities. From all of us at the DIFF, we thank you.