Engaged Alumni

Connecting the dots

Gilbert Bland (’77) blends talents as civic leader and businessman to benefit the commonwealth

As president and CEO of the Urban League of Hampton Roads, a board member of organizations ranging from Sentara Healthcare to the Virginia African American Advisory Board, and a well-respected businessman, Gilbert Bland (’77) epitomizes service-centered leadership.

Bland, who majored in accounting and economics at Madison College and earned an MBA from Atlanta University, is the founder and chairman of The GilJoy Group. He was the owner and operator of more than 70 Burger King, Pizza Hut and Mrs. Fields Cookies restaurants in Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., for 30 years.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began affecting Virginians, Bland found yet another opportunity to lead through service. As a member of Sentara’s Health Equities Workgroup and because of his familiarity with community needs from his work with the Urban League, Bland encouraged testing of underserved populations, including those in Harrisonburg.

Bland (right) helps with food distribution in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia this past spring.
“The spirit of community cooperation has been broad, it’s been sincere and it’s been effective. I am pleased beyond words at how the community has come together and indeed has operated as a village.”
Gilbert Bland (’77)

“I borrow a well-worn phrase, ‘it takes a village,’ in my work,” Bland said. Leaders in specific communities must work together, he said, because there is often a fear of testing among African Americans and immigrants.

“I’ve seen what lack of opportunity can be and I’ve also witnessed the evolution in thinking and opportunities over my lifetime,” Bland said. “I want to help wherever I can to turn on a light for others to see that opportunities do exist. I believe [the biblical admonition] “to whom much is given, much is required.’ I was raised in that environment and remain in that belief.”

Bland was the owner and operator of more than 70 Burger King, Pizza Hut and Mrs. Fields Cookies restaurants in Virginia, North Carolina, Pennslyvania and Washington, D.C. for 30 years. He's proud that he and his wife, Joyce, employed over 2,000 team members annually. The Blands are the parents of five children.

In 1992, Burger King Corp. endowed a scholarship at JMU in honor of Bland’s exemplary service. In 2013, he was honored by JMU’s College of Business with an Outstanding Alumnus Award.

In appreciation for his years of service in higher education, Longwood University awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2017. For the past seven years, Virginia Business magazine has recognized Bland as one of the 50 Most Influential Virginians.

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