“It’s been really wonderful to come into a city where everyone’s arms are wide open,” said newly appointed Los Angeles Urban League president, Nolan V. Rollins who sat down with the Sentinel recently to discuss his mission with the Urban League and his goals for L.A. in particular.
“I will tell you that this community wants to see the Urban League win. Everyone understands how critical it is to have a strong Urban League and they really want to know what can they do to help. But they’re also challenging us.
“They’re saying, ‘you’re the Urban League, you were created to help people transition from where they are to where they’re supposed to be. Do what you do.’”
Rollins said he is excited about the challenge and promised that the League’s impact would be felt throughout the city and beyond.
“We are going to drive policy that has impact in Sacramento. We are going to drive policy that has impact in California and we’re going to drive policy that has impact around the nation,” he said.
In February, Rollins became the seventh president and CEO of the League’s Los Angeles affiliate, but the Baltimore native has been involved with the organization since 2000.
“I finished law school in Florida and met Jay Howard Henderson, who was the CEO of the Urban League in Baltimore,” Rollins recalled.
“He said to me, ‘when you get your first real job, I want you to do something for me.’ And when I got my first real job in the state’s attorney office, he asked me to start the Urban League Young Professionals in Baltimore.
“So, that’s literally where I started. I started as a volunteer, established a chapter, became its first president and then just really worked my way through the ranks. So, it’s been thirteen years for me…”
Rollins stayed in his hometown for about seven years before he was called to serve in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina destroyed parts of the city. It was there that the young attorney began to strengthen his altruistic tendencies.
“It was a great experience [because] we were rebuilding communities,” said Rollins.
“Some of the work that I’m most proud of is early on in the first hundred days we secured 4 million dollars to give back to the communities. We bought appliances and paid rent for people… I mean, just the basic life necessities that you wouldn’t even think about. But people needed to get their electricity turned on and had no money.
They needed appliances and had no money. They needed everything that you could possibly imagine and we secured the dollars to do that. We wound up serving over 4000 people in New Orleans.
“I think that really began to solidify us as kind of a beacon of hope going forward because what really happened after Katrina was there were a lot of people who came into town making extreme promises about how they would do this and they would do that. And what they did was they took the money and left…”
Leaving the rough and tumble of New Orleans for the breezy west coast hasn’t diminished Rollins’ passion. He’s carried his determination almost 2000 miles with plans for a better Los Angeles already in hand. L.A., he explained, is a keystone to not just the western part of the movement but to the entire Urban League.
“As goes the Los Angeles Urban League, so goes the rest of the movement,” he said, crediting his mentor former LAUL leader, John Mack for inspiring him to come here.
“He represents a selfless leader that has given in a way that people don’t generally give. That’s why he’s so revered in the community, not because he’s flashy [but because he’s of substance… without John’s blessing I wouldn’t have come to Los Angeles.”
But now that he has…
“I think, what you’re going to see is a very focused organization,” said Rollins.
“You’ll see us have very clear centers of excellence. Workforce will be in one of the centers where we will have a community and economic development center. We’ll [also] have a policy and social justice center and we’ll have a youth and education center. What I’m going to be focusing on is making sure that the community understands who we are, what we do and how we do it. I think that’s critical.”