In Memorium: James Joseph


For Immediate Release: February 27, 2023

“I keep on trying because I think I hear these words echoing in the clouds and bouncing off the mountaintop. I keep the faith because I believe that once again the longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up and hope and history rhyme. My fondest hope is that you will too. We did it once and we can do it again.” -Ambassador James A. Joseph
It is with a heavy heart that I memorialize one of my most influential mentors, Ambassador James A. Joseph. He lived a full life and I had the opportunity to learn from him very early on in my career as a part of his international leadership program at Duke University and the University of Cape Town, and then again as he chaired the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation after Hurricane Katrina.

A native son from Opelousas, Louisiana who never forgot his home state and returned often to provide leadership and council at all levels of government, the independent sector, and business. 

I came to know him well as a Fellow of the Emerging Leaders Program at Duke University and the University of Cape Town where Ambassador led this program bringing together leaders from America and South Africa to understand what it meant to be a servant leader, to put the struggles of our work in perspective and to help us learn the powerful lesson of forgiveness…it is about you!

His resume is extensive and includes serving in senior executive or advisory positions for four U.S. Presidents, including Under Secretary of the Interior for President Jimmy Carter and U.S. Ambassador to South Africa for President William Clinton and led during the break up of apartheid. In 1999, the Republic of South Africa awarded him the Order of Good Hope. These are just a few of his significant achievements. 

He never stopped loving and caring for his beloved state of Louisiana, he then agreed to Chair the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation for Governor Kathleen Blanco. He led us through one of the toughest times in the history of this state and secured the Bush-Clinton Katrina Funds so that those dollars could be directed where they were needed most and with a racial equity lens.

He agreed to recreate a Louisiana-based version of his Emerging Leaders Program, introducing Louisiana leaders from all three sectors to the principles of leadership learned over the course of his career.

There is so much I could say about him professionally, but that is only part of what made him special. He genuinely cared about his students and saw the power of bringing together American leaders with South African leaders. If you had the opportunity to learn from him it was truly a blessing.  

He taught me how to put the unfathomable destruction and pain of hurricane Katrina into perspective by giving my work at the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation direction and the power we each held to put our state back together.

He was kind and brilliant and introduced me to the great philosophers Sophocles and Marcus Aurelius and the brilliance of his work during the Civil Rights Movement and his work with Nelson Mandela. He cared about Louisiana and he cared about all those he mentored and I am a better leader because of Ambassador James Joseph’s teaching, experiences, and theology.

I pray that his wife Mary and his children find peace knowing that his legacy has impacted the lives of so many throughout the world. I am grateful to have known him and to spent a good part of my professional career learning from him.

Rest in Peace and Power,
Ashley Shelton


Power Coalition for Equity and Justice (PCEJ) is dedicated to supporting and coordinating civic and voter engagement across Louisiana. We are guided by values of justice and racial equity and work with our partners to build an integrated civic engagement strategy that amplifies the voices of those who have historically been ignored, and organize them into a unified movement. PCEJ focuses on building power in traditionally marginalized communities, particularly Black and Brown communities, by equipping people with the knowledge and information they need to find their voice and learn where and when to use it.