Evolve-Mentor Photo

Many come and many leave this vital planet of ours. While we are here in this life, some among us leave a legacy and imprint of their existence upon us. This is the case of those who live a life beyond their own. A life worthy of celebrating. A life praisable by the contributions they have bestowed without seeking recognition or accolades. Merely for the sake of being themselves.

Joan Ehrlich, a woman of humility and honor, lived a full and well lived life. Her life is now a legacy well beyond her own and that of her two extraordinary children and grandchildren. Her life is the kind of life we may aspire to achieve and relish the thought of producing. Yet for her, it was natural. This way of being was embedded within her DNA.

She would have been 78 years old this past February, my mentor and my friend. This wonderful Jewish woman, born in New Brunswick, NJ, passed in January 2008, one month and six days before her 73rd birthday. Her numbers are still programmed in my cell phone, though I have removed others in these last 5 years. All of the emails we exchanged and of course, the conversations we shared, are memorialized within me and in my psyche. Article after article has been written about her contribution as an advocate for civil rights and the arts. At the time of her passing, she held the position of District Director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's San Francisco office, which included managing seven Western states. She was promoted into this position while in her late sixties while battling cancer. She raised two children: Scott Hendler and Stacey Hendler Ross. Of the many contributions Scott has contributed to the world, one includes arguing before the US Supreme Court on behalf of thousands of Latin American banana plantation workers who had suffered toxic injuries from exposure to a now-banned pesticide. His wife is Lulu Flores, a notable woman in her own right. Joan’s daughter, Stacey, is a news anchor and reporter for affiliates ABC and NBC, today leads as the Communications Director at the South Bay Labor Council being the voice for the voiceless, while being an invaluable mother to three precious souls and the friend/wife to talented Roger Ross.

Joan lived life with grace and a flair, an elegance and humanity, a zeal for justice and commitment to fairness. Joan was open to everyone and worked with anyone with a vision for the betterment of humanity. She walked with Martin Luther King Jr., while Justice Clarence Thomas praised her passion for getting the work done without looking for credit. The list of the “Who’s Who” goes on, when it came to Joan and her accessibility to the most influential. She supported many of the cases and clients I represented who were being discriminated against, within her district and beyond, in the heat following 9/11 when anti-Muslim sentiment in this country was at its zenith. She was fearless and a warrior. Always with panache and heart.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss you Joan. I have to stop myself from picking up the phone and calling you with a new event, new case, new project, new action item. We were a team and partners in so many ways. I have been somewhat lost without your shining light of enthusiasm and the goodness you genuinely saw in humanity. I treasure your imprint on my soul, and know that you watch over all of us with the same unwavering love and knowing of our greatness….always as a contribution. I celebrate the fact that you were born and used your life FULLY, UNABASHEDLY, HUMBLY, and with PASSION for us all. I miss you dearly.

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About The Author

Banafsheh Akhlaghi's picture

Banafsheh Akhlaghi is a pioneering civil and human rights attorney, educator and social entrepreneur. She has learned through her work how decisions we make globally affect us locally. She immigrated to the United States from her native Iran with her parents at the age of five and started her career as a professor of Constitutional Law at the John F. Kennedy School of Law. Banafsheh has worked with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM and was the director of the West Region for Amnesty International.

She has won several awards for her work, including the Fred Korematsu Civil Rights Award and was nominated for the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. Banafsheh was named “Top 100 Leading Lawyers in California” and “Top 100 Most Influential Lawyers in California” by the Daily Journal. She was also nominated for the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 2008 and received a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from the U.S. House of Representatives the same year.

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