Grammy award winning artist Pharrell Williams hosted a forum of national and local corporate leaders with a presence in Virginia to engage in a discussion on the potential of Norfolk and Virginia Beach.
Pharrell took the stage first Thursday night to introduce and discuss the importance of the forum asking city leaders to prioritize profit over politics and not let issues like race, gender, sexual identification or orientation get in the way of creating business and job opportunities for all Virginia residents.
The forum was dissected into three parts, Who We’ve Been, Who We Are Now and Who We’ll Become.
“Who We’ve Been” addressed the two cities’ unexpected origins throughout decades of expansion, resilience and how the growth was not always an opportunity for all. “Who We Are Now” highlighted panelists who are currently investing in communities across the country and discussed the impact of those investments. In “Who We’ll Become” panelists shared what attracts them to cities in order to set up their headquarters.
Pharrell has had issues with his home state recently. Earlier this year his cousin Donovan Lynch was killed in a shooting along with Deshayla Harris by Va Beach police. A criminal investigation into the shooting is ongoing along with an independent investigation by a local prosecutor and a review by the VBPD’s internal affairs unit. However, Pharrell believes there are too many unanswered questions about the incident and has called for a federal investigation.
Earlier this month, Pharell announced in a letter to Virginia Beach City Manager Patrick Duhaneyhe would be moving his “Something In The Water” Festival out of Virginia Beach citing the city’s toxic energy.
The letter was a response to Duhaney asking to meet with the artist and the festival’s managers before making the final decision. Something the artist didn’t appreciate.
“I wish the same energy I’ve felt from Virginia Beach leadership upon losing the festival would have been similarly channeled following the loss of my relative’s life,” Pharrell wrote.
Panel speakers included Dr. Cassandra Newby-Alexander, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at NSU, Craig Robins, CEO of Dacra and Real Estate Developer, Deirdre Love, Executive Director of Teens with a Purpose, Derrick Weatherspoon, Senior Portfolio Manager at BlackRock, Drew Ungvarsky, CEO Grow + Assembly in Norfolk, Eric Claville, Public Policy Expert at NSU, Felecia Hatcher, CEO of Black Ambition, Nat Zilkha, Partner, KKR, Pusha T, Musician and Entrepreneur, Shai Zelering, Managing Director at Brookfield and Real Estate Developer, Shu Nyatta, Softbank Opportunity Fund, and others.