In their own words: John Borden on Black History Month
As we celebrate Black History Month throughout February, we look towards the next generation of leaders in tennis, who are working to spread this sport far and wide, reaching deep into communities to impact youth on many levels. This month, you'll meet leaders who are telling their first-person stories on ustsa.com this year, who recognize the influences family, friends, teachers and coaches have had on the direction their lives and careers have taken—and how that direction is positively impacting the newest generations. First up, meet John Borden.
As a child, I was introduced to the sport of tennis—and ultimately, as it turns out, to my chosen career—by my aunt Susan, who first took me out on the court. I started playing in the Bill Johnson Tennis Program in Philadelphia when I was 9 years old. As a junior in high school, I got my first job coaching tennis with the NJTL program at the Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis Center, now called Legacy Youth Tennis and Education. That led to me becoming a Professional Tennis Registry-certified pro in 2002 while working at the Van Der Meer Tennis Academy on Hilton Head Island, S.C. (I’m currently on the PTR’s national board of directors.)
I played on my college team while at Villanova, where I earned a degree in humanities in 2007. During college, I worked for Esz Tennis, just outside of Philly, and then in 2012, I earned a law degree from Howard University.
In 2019, after a great seven years at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Md.—the last three years as general manager—I joined the award-winning Washington Tennis & Education Foundation in Washington, D.C. (where I currently live), and became president and CEO last January.
My work at both the JTCC, and now at WTEF, merges two of the things I most cherish: education and tennis for youth.
Of course, there are several people who were instrumental in the direction my career took. I certainly wouldn’t be here without all the support and love I received from my mother, who also was an elementary school principal. In fact, right out of college, I worked as a substitute teacher in my mom’s school, where I learned so much about leadership—especially in a learning environment—by observing her lead a team of educators and support staff every day. I also credit my career path not only to my aunt Susan, but also my cousin Tonya, for modeling excellence in tennis and sportsmanship: Tonya played for four years at Northwestern University then on the pro tour.
In this industry, I’ve learned so much from both Mike Esz and Ajay Pant, who each trusted me with things way above my experience level. While I’m sure they both would shy away from me calling them “mentors,” they each are excellent role models who taught me the skills I needed for my career. I owe them so much.
When I think about Black History Month, I consider both the horrors and injustices that have taken place and which continue to challenge all of us, but also, I think of the individual and collective excellence of the descendants of the African slaves who were brought to these shores, who managed to excel despite systems that were designed to exclude them.
Throughout my life and career, I’ve been so thankful for those who took the time to help me along the way, who mentored me, and who kept me on a path to where I now can help and influence future generations of Americans.
If I had a Black History Month wish, it would be to see the day that Black leadership, especially in tennis, was a norm and not a novelty. If I had to make a Black History Month commitment, it would be to mentor and train the next generation of leaders, in and out of tennis.