Photo festival celebrates Focus: Hope's 50 years

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — Spectators gazed at photos for hours Saturday as a Detroit civil and human rights organization celebrated its 50th anniversary with an outdoor photography festival. 

Diana Callahan, left, and Liz Garbin, right, point to the photo of a young boy wearing a shirt that reads “I have the best mom ever” holding hands with his mother, wearing a niqab.

The festival, launched by Detroit-based nonprofit Focus: HOPE, follows their mission to overcome racism and poverty — this time showcased through photography. 

As the organization celebrates its milestone, the festival highlights its work by bringing people together to share photographs and stories that encourage bridge building across the racial and socioeconomic divide.

Focus: HOPE interim CEO Vernice Anthony said the festival has been in the works for more than two years. She said they hope to make it an annual event that celebrates diverse people, places and perspectives in Detroit and its suburbs, as seen through the lens of a camera. 

"The festival was inspired by Focus: HOPE’s mission of bringing people together across racial and geographic divides," Anthony said. "This year marks the 50th anniversary of Focus: HOPE’s founding – what better way to celebrate this milestone than to bring people from all around the city and suburbs together to celebrate Detroit’s past, present and future through the lens of a camera?"

The theme of the free festival is “Detroit past, present and future.” The festival features  a three-hour light show that is set to music while projecting images onto the 12-story Bell Building on Oakman Boulevard. 

“I heard of the incredible work Focus: Hope has been doing for the last year and couldn’t wait to see it,” said Diana Callaghan, 34. “One of my favorites is this photo called ‘Best Mom Ever’ it showcases a little boy wearing a bright yellow shirt holding the hand of his mother whose covered.”

Phyllis Hubbard, director of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement health and healing strategies, right, shares stories about powerful portraits displayed on Saturday with Myett Risker.

Photographers and programmers like Phyllis Hubbard were proud to showcase their work Saturday. 

“Our photo series is a byproduct of the work we do at the Campaign for Black Male Achievement and we took photos of our health and healing ambassadors, kids at inner-city schools. We told them ‘you have a lot of power but you don’t see it.’ So, we called these power shots and I’m so proud of them,” she said. 

Families packed lawn chairs, blankets and made a day of it watching live performances, enjoying food trucks, a beer garden, photography workshops, arts and crafts. Anthony said the festival will be right on par with major city events like Ford Fireworks. 

"This is not just another festival in Detroit... most other festivals are downtown, Midtown, or on a major thoroughfare. This festival is a true neighborhood festival, and lifts up Hope Village and other neighborhoods just like it, as important places, filled with hope and a belief in Detroit’s future," she said, noting it's the first photography festival as well. 

The festival is funded through the Knight Arts Challenge grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. To get involved next year, contact Focus: HOPE’s volunteer department at or (313) 494-4270.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_