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Rights activist Eleanor Josaitis dies

DETROIT -- Eleanor Josaitis, who co-founded the social services organization Focus: HOPE in the wake of Detroit's 1967 riots and worked to fight racism, poverty and injustice, died yesterday. She was 79.

Josaitis died at Angela Hospice in Livonia with family members by her side, her son Mark Josaitis said. She was diagnosed with peritoneal cancer last year and had undergone chemotherapy, and had also broken her hip during a fall.

"Eleanor was a stalwart of community activism," Detroit Mayor Dave Bing said in a statement. "She has touched the lives of countless Detroiters and built a legacy of hope and help that will last for generations."

Josaitis and the Rev. William Cunningham founded Focus: HOPE in 1968 after the riots that widened the rift between Detroit's black and white residents. The civil and human rights organization offers job training, as well as food programs for the poor and elderly. Cunningham died in 1997.

"She really believed in human dignity and helping people develop skills to be proud of," Mark Josaitis told The Associated Press.

Josaitis became a civil rights activist after watching a televised report on violence against civil rights marchers in Alabama in 1963, according to Focus: HOPE.

She served as chief executive of the group for nine years after Cunningham's death, and later remained active in its work.

"There's no greater way to eliminate racism and poverty than to see that people have education, skills, jobs and opportunities in life," she said.

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