Virgil Roberts is the managing partner of the law firm Bobbitt & Roberts, which specializes in representing entertainment industry clients. Throughout his professional career, Virgil has been actively involved with the community and legal profession. He currently serves on many governing boards, including the James Irvine Foundation, the Claremont Graduate University, 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. During this time he held various executive positions at Solar Records and Dick Griffey Productions, eventually becoming President. The roster of hit-makers included the likes of Babyface, The Whispers and Vanity.
Although we know Virgil for his outstanding legal work and representation of African American recording artists, he initially 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 1960’s had transformed in the early 70s. For example, while representing the Los Angeles NAACP in a school desegregation case, the law in California changed and all school desegregation cases were dismissed. Although school reform remained an issue, this particular battle was over.
“This was a seminal event that increased my involvement in nonprofit organizations. Although I practice law for a living, I see myself as a ‘do-gooder’; my real passion is to make societal change.” Virgil realized that philanthropy provided an avenue for him to continue his commitment to creating more equitable communities.
Why is Virgil so passionate about working in the philanthropic community? “It’s the sector that supports venture capitalism 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 his involvement with the Alliance for College Ready Public Schools. The Alliance is a network of Charter Schools in Los Angeles communities with historically low test scores. “I get a lot of personal pleasure from what this organization has done.” He is obviously proud that 95% of students from 28 schools go on to college. The success is because “we’re 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 new and different — 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? Virgil feels that it is difficult to imagine what will happen 20 years from now. However, he is sure that millienals and their commitment to improving the world, accompanied with a major transfer in wealth, will have a major impact.
Additionally, he notes the movement to diversify the leadership and decision makers in philanthropy needs to continue, across all ethnic groups. As demonstrated by his work with the African American Leadership Institute (AABLI), ”there is an overwhelming demand for African Americans to serve in board leadership positions. For philanthropy to be truly effective, there need to be more people from communities being served making decisions. The result: 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 a better community.