By Diane Manuel, Ph.D.
Urban Wealth Management
AABLI alumna, Class #7
Virgil Roberts is managing partner of the law firm Bobbitt & Roberts, which specializes in representing entertainment industry clients. Throughout his professional career, Roberts has been actively involved with the community and legal profession. He serves on many governing boards, including those of the James Irvine Foundation, the Claremont Graduate School and the African American Board Leadership Institute (AABLI).
The 1980s and early 90s were magical decades for black music. Moving beyond the Motown Sound, the music on black radio was a combination of R&B, funk, soul and disco. At the helm of one of the major companies contributing to this distinctive sound was Virgil Roberts. He held various executive positions at Solar Records and Dick Griffey Productions, eventually becoming President. The roster of Solar hit-makers included the likes of Babyface, The Whispers and Vanity.
Roberts is recognized for his outstanding legal work and representation of African American recording artists. Initially, however, he aspired to be a civil rights attorney. As a graduate of Harvard Law School in 1972 and an advocate of social change and school reform, he realized the nature of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s had been transformed in the early 70s. For example, while Roberts was representing the Los Angeles NAACP in a school desegregation case, the law in California changed and all school desegregation cases were dismissed. School reform remained an issue, but this particular battle was over.
“This was a seminal event that increased my involvement in nonprofit organizations,” said Roberts. “Although I practice law for a living, I see myself as a ‘do-gooder;’ my real passion is to make societal change.” He realized that philanthropy provided an avenue to continue the work of creating more equitable communities.
Why is Virgil Roberts so passionate about working in the philanthropic community? “It’s the sector that supports venture capital for social change and demonstrates what is possible. If you have an idea about foster youth, public schools, a cleaner environment –whatever–you do it with philanthropy first to demonstrate what is possible. Then you lobby to change public policy and to identify resources for something that’s been demonstrated to work.”
An example of this entrepreneurial spirit can be found in Roberts’ involvement with the Alliance for College Ready Public Schools. The Alliance, a network of charter schools, has its own schools in low-performing school communities in Los Angeles County. “I get a lot of personal pleasure from what this organization has done,” he said, obviously proud that 95 percent of students from The Alliance’s 28 schools go on to college. The group’s success comes from “doing something just a little bit differently.”
Challenges? “I just roll and keep going. You never bat 100. Challenges come about when trying to do something that hasn’t been done before. That’s the challenge of any start-up enterprise and most nonprofits I’ve been involved in are start-ups. There will always be challenges.”
What about the future? It is difficult for Roberts to imagine what will happen 20 years from now, but he is sure that with their commitment to improving the world, accompanied by a major transfer in wealth, millennials will have a major impact.
Roberts notes that the movement to diversify the leadership and decision makers in philanthropy needs to continue, across all ethnic groups. His work with the African American Leadership Institute (AABLI) flows from that conviction. “There is an overwhelming demand for African Americans to serve in board leadership positions,” he said. “For philanthropy to be truly effective, we need more decision makers from the communities they serve. Programs will have more efficacy, be more effective and the decisions will be more authentic.”
This “do-gooder” is obviously making a tremendous contribution to a more robust philanthropic sector and to a better community.
This blog is not written by aabli.org or The African American Board Leadership Institute. The author is solely responsible for the content.