On a Spring Friday morning, April 28, UMass Boston officially dedicated its first residence/dining complex to a married couple, Dr. J. Keith Motley, chancellor emeritus and distinguished professor at its college of management, and Mrs. Angela Motley, public utilities engineer with the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities. The Motleys’ family, friends, alumni, and students were among the crowd. From 2007 to 2017, Dr. Motley led UMass Boston as its first Black chancellor after holding several other positions there. A year after he departed from his role as chancellor, UMass Boston opened the doors of its first residence/dining complex, and this year, it publicly announced the building’s namesakes. The Motleys were key in pushing for the expansion of the residential experience on UMass Boston’s campus. According to a UMass Boston statement, Dr. Motley presided over “unprecedented growth and rebuilding of the campus” throughout his chancellorship, was a “relentless champion of equity,” defined and executed “a strategic plan that prioritized elevating academic offerings and research initiatives,” and oversaw a “25-year campus master plan.”
Recalling her highlights from the Motley Hall dedication ceremony, Mrs. Motley says, “I enjoyed all of the speakers, just to hear all the wonderful things they had to say was really wonderful.” Additionally, her sister and her 90-year-old father were there despite the original cancellation of their flights. For Dr. Motley, the highlight was not only the occasion itself, but also a tribute video including his son and his six-year-old grandson congratulating them, which left both Motleys in tears. He notes, “[The dedication] didn’t really hit us until you … get there, because everyone is telling us how much it is and what it means to have something named for you while you still can smell the roses, and, we’ve never thought about it like that because our journey has just been blessed with so many firsts and opportunities.” Dr. Motley found his spouse’s speech inspirational and enjoyed her enthusiasm on the day, along with other highlights.
It was Mrs. Motley, Dr. Motley says, that introduced him to UMass Boston when she was pursuing her master’s degree in business administration there in the 1990s. “He would always wait for me after class … but he would always park in an illegal parking space, so campus police would always ask him to move his car,” Mrs. Motley notes. She remembers he would say to campus police that he was moving; he was just waiting for someone. They would tell him to move to a legal spot. “And I said in my speech,” Mrs. Motley adds, “that I did not know that at that time, I had no idea, that I would become first lady of the university and that our journey would begin.”
Dr. Motley’s path to higher education began 50 years ago when he became a basketball student-athlete at Northeastern University, studying speech pathology and audiology. He was a freshman when he started his work-study at the African American Institute’s Cabral Center, and after someone who ran the Center quit, he took over. “So, talking about leadership, it allowed me to bring students into the leadership journey there, and myself and Ken Wooling, a guy I grew up with in Pittsburgh, worked there in the Institute, and we worked there in the Cabral Center, and, it was an amazing experience for us because we were able to do the programming,” he says. During his undergraduate years, he earned cultural awards and the director’s award at the Institute. When he wasn’t working there for his work-study or co-op during his undergraduate career, he presided over the Omicron chapter of Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc., was captain of Northeastern’s basketball team, conducted research for former Northeastern President John “Jack” Curry, and was a member of the Northeastern Black Student Association.
After Dr. Motley obtained his bachelor’s degree in 1978, he joined Northeastern’s admissions department, recruiting students for the colleges of business administration, engineering, and criminal justice, across the country. Four years later, he became the Assistant Dean, then Director of the former Office of Minority Student Affairs. Next, he became the Associate Dean, then Director of the African American Institute, renamed for his mentor and supervisor, John D. O’Bryant, who died in 1992. Dr. Motley played an instrumental role in renaming the John D. O’Bryant African American Institute (JDOAAI) with Northeastern President Curry and its administration. Under Dr. Motley’s professional leadership of the JDOAAI, the Institute introduced the annual Baccalaureate Ceremony in 1987, the Vision Awards, and the anniversary celebrations starting with its 20th anniversary in 1988. He named the Institute’s oratory competition, first occurring in 1983, after the late Dean Ronald E. Latham. What’s more, Dr. Motley earned his master’s degree in higher education administration in 1981, worked as a part-time assistant basketball coach for 21 years, and became a Northeastern Varsity Club Hall of Fame inductee in 1999. Before leaving for UMass Boston in 2003, he served as dean of student services at Northeastern.
Mrs. Motley graduated from Northeastern with a mechanical engineering degree in 1985 and worked as a work-study at the Institute, her “home away from home.” She notes that the Institute was an opportunity to meet students, a place where they had fun. She was also a member of Sigma Beta Epsilon, an engineering sorority founded by Black women on Northeastern’s campus in 1980. Years later, as UMass Boston first lady, Mrs. Motley supported the university’s fundraising efforts and made service and student mentorship “a hallmark of her time at the university,” while also pursuing her career and raising her children with her spouse. Speaking on her fondest memories from the time of her contributions, she mentions, “I think it’s always nice to interact with students. I spent a lot of time in the school system here in Stoughton from when my children were very young. I understood the importance of education, I understood the importance of sharing my husband’s or the university’s mission, so it was very important for me to be present and supportive of his efforts.” To her, a mutually supportive and loving relationship is crucial for students and everyone to see.
The Motley name echoes through other aspects of UMass Boston—the Dr. J. Keith Motley Scholarship supports undergraduate students who completed pre-collegiate programs at the university. Moreover, New Balance sponsors a bachelor of arts program in sports management and leadership at UMass Boston, and Dr. Motley is its chair namesake. “Several students have benefitted from our scholarships, and now, some of those students will live in the residence halls because of that scholarship … it’s been amazing for us,” says Dr. Motley. Regarding what the honor of having the residence/dining complex named for them means to them and their legacies, Dr. Motley says the most significant part of their legacies has been the “student-centered approach” they’ve taken. “And so, for me,” he adds, “my legacy has always been from trying to build a research university that has a teaching soul to building the student-centered, urban, public research university that Boston was missing. That’s the legacy, and to have it with world-class facilities and world-class academics is what we were able to do.”
Their legacy continues at Northeastern—Dr. & Mrs. Motley’s son and stepson, respectively, Keith Allyn Motley, is the Assistant Director of Student Outreach & Communications at the JDOAAI. Motley previously worked as the Program Coordinator of Outreach and Communications there, and years before, was an undergraduate student-athlete on Northeastern’s former football team. The Motleys still frequent the Institute, whether for an event for The Links, Inc., an organization Mrs. Motley is a member of, or the Institute’s 50th anniversary in 2018. “Well, the 50th was … a wonderful period, I know I spoke there, so it was good for me to see all my former students and colleagues there, and it was fascinating for us. It’s always great when I come home, that’s where I cut my teeth, I was a baby there, as an administrator,” says Dr. Motley.
When asked what the younger undergraduate version of themselves would think of them today and what they would tell the younger version of themselves if they had the chance, Mrs. Motley mentions that she didn’t ever dream of the naming of Motley Hall, nor the life she has now. She had no idea it would happen except when she married Dr. Motley. From then, she knew anything was possible. She mentions tearfully, “He showed me a whole … new world, and I just had to be a believer, and I was.”