1960s-1970s: Focus: HOPE emerges as advocate for minorities and poor
Detroit was still smoldering from the 1967 riots when a small band of people, led by Father William T. Cunningham and Eleanor M. Josaitis, pledged to unite a community that was sharply divided on racial and economic lines. They wrote a mission statement that pledged “intelligent and practical action to overcome racism, poverty and injustice.” The founders’ first action was to organize Focus Summer HOPE, a riverfront festival that brought together city and suburban residents in a spirit of friendship and harmony.
It was such a success that the co-founders embarked on other social advocacy initiatives. They trained a group of priests to preach on civil rights issues by exposing them to the rhetoric of extremist groups. Next, they collaborated with Wayne State University on a study that demonstrated that city residents were paying significantly more for food and prescriptions than suburban residents. The HOPE ’68 study exposed some of the conditions believed to be behind much of the violence of 1967 and laid the foundation for Focus: HOPE’s entire approach to resolving the effects of discrimination.
As Focus: HOPE was working to bridge the racial divide, a major Detroit employer announced its move to the suburbs. Focus: HOPE took the employer, AAA of Michigan, into Federal District Court and proved the move was racially motivated. As a result, hiring practices were changed to open opportunities for women and people of color.
In 1971, after gathering scientific evidence of the effects of hunger and malnutrition on the early development of infants, Focus: HOPE’s co-founders won approval from Congress for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP). It provided food for pregnant and post partum mothers, infants and children up to age six. At age six, children who were still in need qualify for the school lunch program. After winning support for mothers and children, the co-founders tackled the issue of hunger among senior citizens – successfully extending the federal CSFP program to include low income seniors in 1975. The program now assists 41,000 people each month through Focus: HOPE’s four food centers and more than 500,000 people nationally.
The first Holiday Music Festival fund raiser was held in 1969 and the first WALK in 1975. Focus: HOPE had established a strong foothold in the community.