|Diversity on Deck|
Table of Contents:
In the popular imagination, boating is a pastime by and for upper class white men. Their wives might be aboard, but they are seldom at the helm. Minorities are nowhere to be found. While this image may be more accurate than many would like to admit, the tide is turning and boating is diversifying. In our last issue, we profiled increasing female participation (“Women at the Helm”). Here, through the first-person accounts of two member-officers of the Black Boaters Club of America, we take a look at personal stories of minorities who discovered a love of boating.
Born and raised on the north side of Omaha, Nebraska, I developed a fascination with water at an early age. Coming from a large family of five brothers and six sisters, there was little money for recreational activities so we turned to the area lakes as a means for recreation for the whole family. I clearly remember the trips to the lake where my brother Richard and I walked 10 miles (one-way) to spend 10 to 12 hours fishing and watching the boats pass by, wishing that we could own our own boat someday. That was the time when I committed myself to being on the water—not just near it.
During the 1960s, few financial opportunities were available to African-Americans, creating an environment where a young impressionable African-American male easily could slide into a life of crime, drugs and despair. I would definitely say that being on the lake had a profound effect on my life in that being around the water gave me an outlet to escape the destructive influences that appeared to be all around me during that time. Upon reaching the age of 18 and having limited support, I joined the army as a means to break what I viewed as a vicious cycle and to escape a questionable future.
After serving three years in the U.S. Army and one tour in Vietnam, I became employed with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). As I rose through the ranks and experienced many relocations with the FAA, I had the opportunity to frequent waterways from the Great Lakes to the Florida Coast, meeting all types of wonderful people involved in boating and fishing. Also, I purchased my first boat, an 18-foot Bayliner. However, it was very noticeable that few minorities, especially African-Americans, were involved in boating. I wondered why. Following extensive research, it became apparent that these were latent effects of past conditions that made it difficult for African-Americans and other minorities to identify with the typical recreational boater.
In 2007, the opportunity to redress this misperception presented itself when fellow African-American boaters Wanda Wallace, Janice and David Tillery and I decided to organize the Black Boaters Club of America (BBCA). Along with the support of MarineMax, Aqualand and Holiday Marinas, we have had unbelievable results in exposing African-Americans and other minorities to the awesome world of boating.
My husband David and I grew up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. Growing up African-American in the ’50s and ’60s we never knew anyone who owned a boat. We went swimming occasionally and went to the beach from time to time, but that was the extent of our water experience and we certainly never thought we would own a boat ourselves.
In June of 1980, David, our new baby son David II and I moved to Strongsville, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. Due to the city’s location on the shore of Lake Erie, we began daydreaming about owning a boat. But because we were newly married with a young son and we were just starting our careers, owning a boat was certainly many years away. Even so, we would walk along the lakefront and admire the beautiful boats and say, “Some day.”
Years later, Cleveland redeveloped an area of the lakefront with restaurants and nightclubs called The Flats. There were water taxis and pleasure craft ferrying people to and from the restaurants and clubs. There were also some restaurants that allowed private cruisers and yachts to tie up in front of their establishments and come ashore. Everyone looked like they were having the time of their lives. But by then we were preparing to send two children to college. We vacationed at the beach and went on cruises. My husband and son became certified scuba divers and we all would Jet Ski, swim, snorkel and enjoy other water sports.