Civic leader Carol Borden did not gain her status because of wealth or family connections, her friends and family said, but rather it was her determination, intellect and compassion that secured her seat at the table and allowed her to leave legacies that endure beyond her death.
Borden, 72, died April 17 of retroperitoneal sarcoma. A June memorial service is being planned. Bill Borden said that after one oncologist after another told his wife of 49 years how rare her cancer was, she hatched a plan to will her body for medical study at the University of California, San Francisco.
“She said, ‘If you put me in the grave, who does that help?’ ” Borden said. “She not only figured out a way to help the community while she was alive, she figured out a way to help it after she was dead.”
Rick Rodriguez, a former editor of The Bee, recalled Borden from the inaugural Sacramento class of the American Leadership Forum, a civic group that diversifies and strengthens leadership networks. In one team-building exercise, he said, the class scaled a cliff. Rodriguez went up first but declined when they asked whether he wanted a second go. He then watched as Carol Borden, her right arm atrophied from a childhood bout with polio, prepared for her turn.
“I remember Carol going up that cliff,” Rodriguez said. “I remember her clunking her head against the cliff when she was rappelling down, and instead of saying, ‘Oh, man, I’m not going up there again,’ she went up again. She would not give up.”
With that inaugural ALF class, founding executive director Doni Blumenstock paired up leaders as “ALF buddies.” Dennis Mangers, a former educator, politician and cable TV policy advocate, got paired with Borden and came to admire her commitment to social justice.
“She was not just a whiner about things that were inequitable in our society,” he said. “She made it clear that … we were all here to do something about it.”
Years later, Mangers said, Blumenstock’s pairing seemed prescient when Borden’s eldest son, Tre Borden, came home during a break from Yale University and told his parents he was gay. Borden called her buddy, who had come out as gay years before.
“Carol … asked me, ‘What should we do?’ ” Mangers said. “I said, ‘Well, what you do is what you do best. You love and support your son, and I have a feeling that his sexual orientation is not going to make one whit of difference in how you behave as a mother.’ She said, ‘Well, you got that right.’ ”
Borden then asked Mangers to mentor her son as he confronted any struggles, Mangers said, and that cemented his bond to the family. Borden dedicated her time and talent to nurturing future African American leaders through the Sacramento chapter of Jack and Jill and the Sacramento Chapter of The Links. She helped to diversify the arts scene as a member of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission. She brought nationally known black authors to the region for the Sacramento Black Book Fair.
She opened doors to leaders representing underrepresented people as a member of both the national and Mountain Valley chapter of the American Leadership Forum. She guided the founding of Downtown Plaza as an inaugural board member of the Downtown Partnership along with leaders such as developer David Taylor, former Mayor Anne Rudin and lobbyist Scott Syphax.
The chair of that founding board, Syphax was then one of the youngest people to lead a civic group in the region, and he acknowledged there were times when, as a young African American leader finding his way, he acquiesced to older people from the majority community.
One day, after debating an issue on equity and access, Syphax said, Borden sought a private word: “Carol took me to the side and said, ‘Let me tell you something, Scott. … A lot of people marched and bled and were bitten by dogs and died so that you could sit in that chair that you’re sitting in right now, and if you’re not going to live up and stand up for your own convictions, then you need to step off, step out of the way, and let somebody else lead.’ ”
Syphax said he was furious with Borden for weeks, but he later realized that his anger was born from knowing that she had been right. He said he resolved that even if he was the only person of color in the room, he would stand up for those who had gotten him to the table.
Tre Borden said he had similar moments with his mother, who let him know that it is hard to get into the halls of power, hard to keep the position, and hard to endure being there but that true leadership lies in bringing that room somewhere new, not in appeasing people.
The 32-year-old Borden, a Buck Scholar, said his mother used all her ingenuity to ensure that he and his brother Lin Borden, a graduate of Syracuse University, got into the gifted and talented program at Sac City Unified and were enriched by foreign travel and Space Camp.
Carol Borden is survived by her husband Bill; her sons Tre and Lin Borden; and a brother, Tommy Lastrape.