Photographer, mom, feminist, activist, educator, and all-around bad ass. Devin Ford is the founder of Focus, an Alabama-based, nonpartisan organization that uniquely empowers and celebrates women across Alabama. They raise them up and celebrate accomplishments, forging lasting relationships in the process.
Focus inspires women and girls in Alabama to unify against a system built against them and celebrate the accomplishments of feminine icons. Ford was inspired by her time spent in California working as a professional photographer, where she attended an event like Focus meeting her lifelong mentors and allies.
Coming back to Alabama, she had a vision in mind. “People are so concentrated on their inner, immediate family that we often forget about our community,” said Ford. She believes these community connections can oftentimes be much deeper than familial ones.
The Focus mission is to encourage, educate, and empower. “We were the first group in this area to try to bring women together in this way, where we really are talking a lot about financial empowerment—because whether we like it or not, in our society, money is power,” said Ford.
These connections transcend financial capital as well. “Also, you know, incorporating mental health and letting people know that it's okay not to be okay, and that we all need support,” said Ford. There are many areas this organization finds itself supporting others, including multiple events every year, for women across generations.
The Focus online platform (focuswc.com) allows this encouragement to take place online with feature stories, educational content, and a community calendar. This was important during COVID when important stories could still be shared online.
The annual Focus Women’s Conference is a full day of workshops, panels, networking opportunities, vendors, and speakers. “Every single year, I have people come up to me and say, ‘I found my people today,’” said Ford. Some of the past conversations have revolved around parenting, the state of women in Alabama, and career advice.
The teen conference focuses on empowering activities and conversations about potential career paths, personal safety, and community awareness. They previously held a conversation about vulnerabilities that can lead to human trafficking, and how to use social media in a safe way.
Focus is always coming up with new ideas for events to hold to connect with others. “We've done some fun events like a love yourself day, where we just did yoga—and we did vision boards, and women just sat around just chit-chatting working on their vision boards and eating healthy food and journaling. And just connecting,” said Ford.
The upcoming 40 over 40 awards ceremony celebrates and honors forty amazing women over forty who have made a mark on their community, but also in their professional life.
“So often especially, in more traditional places like Alabama, you see a woman's worth related to her youth and her beauty. We are very beautiful in every stage of life, and we never lose our worth,” said Ford. 40 over 40 celebrates the professional accomplishments of others outside of just physical appearance, something Ford feels is so apparent in the South.
“We barely advertised it, and we got 143 [applicants]. And it's just, we sold out, and I didn't make one Facebook post about the event. People are hungry for positivity,” said Ford.
Focus is determined in their ability to forge these connections and help women excel professionally and personally. “Social capital and who you know, is such a big part of making anything happen,” said Ford.
Ford took the time during our interview to extend a hand to me, inviting me to the 40 over 40 ceremony but also offering friendship. The genuine care she shows through not only her work, but in the way she treats people—even strangers—shows how Focus succeeds in their mission.
You can find the inspiring summaries and stories of women all over the state of Alabama on Focus’ website. (focuswc.com)