Noreen Dorsey-Freeland sobbed Tuesday as she remembered meeting the woman who became her mentor.

Suffering from a debilitating physical disability, Dorsey-Freeland moved back to York about seven years ago. She wanted to get involved but didn't know how. A landlord suggested she contact Joanne Borders.

"She let me know that your disability is an ability because you can pick up the phone and call people and make a difference," Dorsey-Freeland said through tears. "She taught me everything that I know."

Borders, a longtime community activist who took on a new role as a York City councilwoman this year, died Monday evening. She was 67.

"I'm a community activist because of her," Dorsey-Freeland said. "She took me under her wing.

Joanne Borders at the Democratic headquarters waiting for voting results during the primaries.
Joanne Borders at the Democratic headquarters waiting for voting results during the primaries. (Bil Bowden)
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'Lover of community': Borders -- a woman known for her elegant outfits, reassuring mother's tone and an unwavering dedication to York City -- was absent Monday from a York City Council meeting. She'd called Council President Carol Hill-Evans earlier that day to say she was ill.

Around 10 p.m., Hill-Evans said, she got a call from Mayor Kim Bracey, a friend of Borders. Borders had been rushed to the hospital and later died.

"She was truly a lover of community and the city," Hill-Evans said. "She was driven by God. She always talked about how blessed she was, regardless of what she was going through."

Kim Hibner, a retired York City Police officer, called Borders "a great pillar in this city."

"She was a woman who voiced her opinion, whether you liked it or not. She was a very intelligent woman. She loved everyone and got along with everyone. It did not matter what race, gender, sexual preference, etc.," Hibner wrote in an email. "She just loved people."

Hibner noted Borders' support of the police department and service on the York City Dollars for Scholars Board.

"I really prayed that God would heal her, but God needed his angel and knew that we could eventually go on without her," Hibner wrote. "Someone can do her job, but no one can ever replace her."

The Democratic Party of York County released a statement Monday evening calling Borders "a diligent and steadfast public servant."

Condolences: News of Borders' death spread quickly on social media Monday night and Tuesday morning, with many Yorkers posting condolences on Facebook.

Marisa Shockley-Wilson, an activist for city youth, said Borders was "like a guardian to the west end of York City."

"She helped so many people. Salem Square community won't be the same without her," Shockley-Wilson wrote on Facebook.

Stephanie Seaton, executive director of the city's Human Relations Commission, wrote that Borders was a teacher who "taught me grassroots efforts make a difference, to take ownership and pride in your community, that everyone can do something, how to be a community builder and mobilizer."

Activism: Borders was awarded the York Humanitarian Award in 2009 for her commitment to improving the lives of city residents.

"I know that we can't do everything, but we all can do something," she said during an acceptance speech.

Borders was a founding member of the York chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women. She was involved with the South George Street Community Partnership, the Atkins House of York, Crispus Attucks' Girls Achieving Pure Potential program, the National Leadership Corps and the Salem Square Neighborhood Association.

Before her election to city council last year, she served as a community organizer with the York City Police Department.

In that role, she began organizing Stand Up For Your Community meetings, an initiative she and other activists started last year in response to a rash of street violence.

In August, Borders happily stood by as her son, Rob Borders, opened a new restaurant on East King Street. The ribbon cutting drew dozens of government officials and city residents to Borders Famous Chicken and Fish.

"I'm so proud to see him do his heart's desire," she said at the time.

Fellow community activist Jerri Zimmerman said she and Borders became close friends about eight years ago.

"When you say 'friend,' Joanne was the true form of friend. If you had a problem, she had a problem. If you needed help, she was there," Zimmerman said. "When I was having a really bad day, and I would call her, she would say, 'Jerri, let it go, and let God take care of it.' Lo and behold, everything would be fine."

-- Erin James may also be reached at ejames@yorkdispatch.com.