Courageous Women of Faith Profile: Eleanor Josaitis
Picture a time when you have been sitting on your couch watching television and your program is interrupted by breaking news. While this may not happen as often now, because of streaming services, most of us can still remember a time when an announcement scrolled across the bottom of our screen or a newscaster interrupted to announce that something, usually not something good, was going on in the world.
Well, this is exactly what happened to Eleanor Josaitis in the late 1960s. When, from the comfort of her suburban Michigan home, she watched, with frustration and confusion, as riots took over Detroit. Racial tension had hit a boiling point and Black communities were rising up in anger and protest to the injustices of poverty and racism.
So, what did Eleanor Josaitis do next? She did not change the channel. She did not ignore what she was seeing and hearing. She did not simply return to her comfortable life. She packed up her husband and her five young children and MOVED TO DETROIT to support the Black communities in the fight for equity and justice.
As a devout Catholic, Eleanor Josaitis embodied the charge to be ‘cheerful givers’ [2 Corinthians 9:7] and ‘love thy neighbor’ [Matthew 22:36-40]. Eleanor Josaitis asked herself, ‘Am I doing all that I can be doing?’ She used God’s love as a beacon to lead her into a life-long commitment to being a civil rights ally. Her legacy has been particularly inspiring to me during this recent time period. The parallel between the 1960s and the Black Lives Matter movement is clear and Eleanor Josaitis’s life shows me, as a white Catholic, how I must be fierce in committing to the good/hard work of being an active anti-racist.
Eleanor Josaitis co-founded Focus: HOPE, a community-based, multi-service non-profit that pledges ‘intelligent and practical action to overcome racism, poverty, and injustice.’ Focus: HOPE provides workforce development, distributes food, offers programs for seniors, early education programs for preschoolers, and afterschool/summer camp programs for school-age youth. Focus: HOPE is the manifestation of God’s love for a whole community. The work that Eleanor Josaitis founded in Detroit, and that still continues today while being replicated in cities across the country, is work that changes life trajectories for entire families and communities.
May Eleanor Josaitis inspire us all to be brave enough to honestly ask, ‘‘Am I doing all that I can be doing?”
– Moria Cappio