Mr. Bland: Far from bland

Cassidy Davenport, Staff Writer

By Cassidy Davenport

Gilbert T. Bland was born in the period of segregation and Jim Crow laws, a time in America where white and black people mixing was often frowned upon, and African Americans were faced with severe discrimination almost everywhere they went. 

However, despite the difficulties that Bland was born into, he was able to grow up to be a successful, inspiring businessman, which he contributes to the work and sacrifices of civil rights activists and history-makers such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, Barbara Johns, Katherine Johnson, and many others.

Bland works as an entrepreneur who has owned and operated over 70 restaurants in the last 30 years. Currently, he is CEO of the Urban League of Hampton Roads, whose primary goal is to aid African Americans in living better lives through providing better education, better job opportunities, and better health care.

Bland didn’t grow up in a privileged household where life was handed to him. He grew up in the rural parts of Virginia, and his parents didn’t have experience in higher education or “sophisticated” jobs, simply because of the discrimination they faced at the time that prevented them. However, Bland worked his way up, receiving a degree in economics and accounting from JMU and going on to get his master’s in business–and eventually building the successful business he has today. 

“I want to show how your efforts can create a better life for others,” said Bland. He spoke of the many historic African Americans who had paved the way to allow him to get where he is today, people such as W.E.B. DuBois and Barbara Johns who prioritized good education for African Americans. 

“Nothing is more important for your success like your education,” Bland told the group of students that gathered during One Lunch recently to hear him speak. “If you’re well-educated and prepared, more opportunities are available to open for you.” 

He explained how college is what gave him the chances to become the person he is today. “The world is changing. You need to be prepared in the work force. You need to be prepared,” Bland said.

As Bland reached the end of his speech, he left the students with a message from a poem that he holds close to his heart, called “I have only just a minute” by Dr. Benjamin E. Mays:

“I have only just a minute,

Only sixty seconds in it.

Forced upon me, can’t refuse it.

Didn’t seek it, didn’t choose it.

But it’s up to me

to use it.

I must suffer if I lose it.

Give account if I abuse it.

Just a tiny little minute,

but eternity is in it.”