Keith Mott becomes the Pacific Mariners Yacht Club’s first African-American commodore
By Paul M. J Suchecki
Pacific Mariners Yacht Club made history last month by selecting its first African-American commodore, Keith Mott. An LAPD sergeant, Mott is only the second black yacht club commodore in Marina del Rey history and, as far as he knows, the only black man presently leading a yacht club the entire West Coast.
PMYC has been around for 55 years and remains one of the few all-volunteer yacht clubs, meaning the club depends more than most on the enthusiasm and abilities of its members. A few years back Mott had caught the attention of then-Commodore Tom Hall, who encouraged Mott to run for a seat on the club’s board of directors. Mott recalls thinking that Hall had lost his mind, but Hall persisted.
“I was just happy to be a member,” recalls Mott, “but being on the board said a lot. When I joined PMYC there was only one other black person here. When I got on the board, I think it was a shock to a lot of people. They wanted to know what kind of change there would be. They wanted to know if there would be a mass of black people joining the club. With anything that has been going a long time, there can be a fear.”
But fear quickly gave way to familiarity.
“Soon members realized there was nothing to fear. I’m just as human as anybody else. My African-American friends come up to the club. We’ve mixed and mingled. PMYC has been a great blend,” Mott continues. “As we’ve gotten to know each other, people have invited me into their homes. I’ve traveled to Hawaii with some members of the club. It’s not about race. It’s not about skin color. It’s about how we get along and move forward in life.”
Mott grew up in Indiana but spent his summers in Virginia with the oyster fishermen and boaters on his mother’s side of the family. He and his brother learned to boat and fish on Chesapeake Bay. Mott’s uncle, an NYPD officer, would take Mott fishing off Montauk, Long Island.
These experience led Mott to wonder as an adult in Los Angeles why there weren’t more local African-American boaters. And even rarer than boaters are sailors.
“There are black sailing groups; there are black yacht clubs. There’s plenty of black fishing and boating on the East Coast, but for some reason here on the West Coast, it’s not the same,” Mott says. “I didn’t get into sailing until after I joined PMYC and some friends took me out.”
Prior to joining LAPD, Mott had spent eight years as a U.S. Supreme Court law enforcement officer protecting the justices. Mott credits Justice Clarence Thomas with teaching him that there would always be haters, so to speak, but that he would have to move past that to fight for what he believed in.
“I know that Justice Thomas, along with Justice Kennedy, would be proud of what I’ve done with this yacht club,” Mott says.
Through much of its history, PMYC was known as “a drinking club with a boating problem.” Mott credits one of his predecessors, Commodore Steve Cordova, also an LA police officer, with starting to turn the club’s reputation around. Cordova “frowned upon the drinking that was associated with club,” he recalls. “He was a big proponent of the club being more into sailing and racing.”
What changes would Mott like to make?
“I’d like to continue to grow PMYC into a premier sailing club, as it’s been, and to get more youth involved in the club,” he answers. “I work with youth in the low-income areas of South L.A. I’d like to get more of them into boating and sailing.”
Mott sees sailing as an effective way to reinforce STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum for underserved communities, because he sees math and physics are at the heart of the sport.
He also sees his role as commodore as an opportunity to create better relationships among people of varying backgrounds.
“With what we’re going through now as a country, we have to keep a positive outlook,” he says. “For Americans to move forward, we’ve got to get past race and skin color. Sailing is a great opportunity for us to become united, because when you’re on the water you have to depend on your crew.”
Pacific Mariners Yacht Club celebrates Mott’s installation during its semi-formal Commodore’s Ball on Saturday, Jan. 27, at The Proud Bird, 11022 Aviation Blvd., Westchester. Visit pmyc.org for more information about the club.
Paul Suchecki is a member of Fairwind Yacht Club and Single Mariners.