Father William T. Cunningham

bill laugh

As a young priest, Father William T. Cunningham marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and preached eloquently against “the malignancy of racism.” By the time his life drew to an end in 1997, Father Cunningham had left an indelible mark on the community. High profile leaders and common citizens alike were inspired by Cunningham’s vision of a society that embraces its diversity.

He scoffed at being called a visionary – preferring instead to be characterized as an energetic leader who could get things done. In the 1970s, he shamed Congressional lawmakers into funding a food program by pointing out how milk was poured down sewers rather than given to hungry babies in the richest country in the world.

He listened as city residents complained about high prices and commissioned a study that proved unequivocally that food and prescriptions cost as much as 30 percent more in city grocery and drug stores at the time.

When he saw African Americans and others excluded from well-paying jobs in Michigan’s industrial economy, he started a training program in 1981 where they could develop superior machining skills and compete for jobs on an equal footing.

Cunningham built a campus from abandoned industrial buildings by engaging business leaders in his vision of a campus where men and women from Focus: HOPE’s impoverished neighborhood could earn a college degree at the Center for Advanced Technologies and join the highest ranks of management.

Eleanor M. Josaitis


The turning point in Eleanor Josaitis’ life came in 1963 as she watched a televised report on the violence inflicted on civil rights marchers in Selma, Alabama. The horrific scene ignited Josaitis’ passion for justice.

She became a civil rights activist – and a few years later co-founded Focus: HOPE in the wake of the 1967 violence that erupted in her own city.

Eleanor Josaitis, who passed away in August 2011, was widely regarded as a leader who fought with courage and tenacity to open opportunities to African Americans, women and others. She experienced the jubilation of winning Congressional approval of a national food program that has helped hundreds of thousands of women, children and senior citizens; the loneliness of a lengthy, and eventually victorious, federal discrimination lawsuit against a local employer; and the satisfaction of having talented men and women gain access to the financial mainstream.

The firebombing of Focus: HOPE’s offices in the 1970s, the passing of Father Cunningham in 1997, and the tornado that inflicted $18 million in damages to the campus two months later, never discouraged her.

“I refuse to be intimidated,” she said frequently. She was determined to make a difference in the community and she continued to work everyday until she became ill in the fall of 2010. 

Josaitis served as CEO for nine years after Father Cunningham’s passing and received numerous national and local awards and 13 honorary doctorates.

She often attributed Focus: HOPE’s success to passion, persistence and partnerships. “I am grateful for the many partners that share our mission and make our work possible,” she said. “They have helped us immeasurably in our mission to overcome racism, poverty and injustice.”