Academic administrator J. Keith Motley was born on January 28, 1956 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to John Jr. and Cornelia Motley. He attended James E. Rogers Elementary School and graduated in 1972 from Peabody High School in Pittsburgh. In 1972, Motley was recruited by legendary hall of fame coach Jim Calhoun and assistant coach and recruiter Mike Jarvis to play Division 1 basketball at Northeastern University in Boston. Named team captain, Motley played four years at Northeastern and received his B.S. degree in education, speech pathology and audiology in 1978; and his M.Ed. degree in higher education administration in 1981, both from Northeastern University. He went on to receive his Ph.D. degree in education administration from Boston College, in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts in 1999.
Upon graduating, Motley was hired as an admissions counselor at Northeastern, and also as a part-time assistant coach for the Huskies basketball team. In 1980, he served as an intern in the Office of Senior Vice President for University Administration. He also became assistant dean of minority affairs in 1982. In 1987, Motley became associate dean and director for the John D. O’Bryant African-American Institute and served as associate head coach where he helped to lead the Huskies to seven appearances in the NCAA Tournament. In 1989, Motley served as founder and director for Concerned Black Men of Massachusetts, Inc. Paul Robeson Institute for Positive Self Development, a Saturday academy-focused on Black males. In 1993, Motley was named Northeastern University dean of student services; and in 1996, Motley helped to establish the Roxbury Preparatory Charter School. In 2003, Motley joined the University of Massachusetts at Boston as vice chancellor for student affairs. He was then named interim chancellor for the university in 2004, and served as vice president for business and public affairs. In 2006, his role was expanded to vice president for business marketing and public affairs. Then, in 2007, Motley was named chancellor for the University of Massachusetts Boston and served in that capacity until 2017. In 2018, the university established the Dr. J. Keith Motley Chair to Head New Sports Leadership and Administration Program in his honor.
Motley was inducted into the Northeastern University Hall of Fame in 1999. He is the recipient of numerous honors and recognition including: Business Journal, Power 50 Most Influential Bostonians, for five consecutive years-2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016; Harvard Club of Boston, Friends of Education Award, in 2014; John D. O’Bryant African American Institute, Vision Award, in 2015; Boston NAACP, WEB Du Bois Distinguished Service Award, in 2016; and Emerson College President’s Award for Civic Engagement in 2017.
Motley and his wife Angela are the parents of three adult children including Keith, Kayla
J. Keith Motley was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on November 18, 2018.