Detroit was still reeling from the 1967 civil unrest 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. 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.