Detroit lost a legend this morning. Eleanor Josaitis, the great civil rights activist and co-founder of Focus:HOPE, died at age 79. Most Detroiters know Focus:HOPE as a high-tech training center where disadvantaged men and women receive not only vo-tech certification but also (in partnership with various local universities) engineering degrees. But the place remains a multi-purpose service center that works toward justice--and never shies away from using words like "justice."
Fr. Art McGovern, my ethics professor back during my undergrad years, brought Josaitis to class to speak about her work and Fr. McGovern also took students to various Focus:HOPE events. Those were galvanizing experiences. When I edited the campus features magazine, I put Josaitis on the cover of my first issue. The Detroit riots inspired Josaitis to move from the suburbs to the city (her mother tried to sue her for custody of her children after Josaitis moved to Detroit) and dedicate her life to racial and economic justice. Racists sent her hate mail. She called those notes "love letters." A couple years ago I heard her speak and she read excerpts from those love letters like they were badges of honor.