Pharrell brings Mighty Dream to Norfolk
In November, Grammy-winning music superstar Pharrell Williams hosted the three-day Mighty Dream forum in Norfolk and broke some news about his Something in the Water music festival and the status of his team’s proposal to redevelop Norfolk’s Military Circle Mall site.
Mighty Dream, a sequel to his 2021 Elephant in the Room business conference at Norfolk State University, featured Williams in conversation with corporate and cultural movers and shakers, including Google Inc. Chief Diversity Officer Melonie Parker; actor and comedian Hannibal Buress; SpringHill Co. CEO Maverick Carter; retired NASA astronaut Leland Melvin; and Annie Wu, H&M Group’s global head of inclusion and diversity. The conference, which focused on equity and inclusion, innovation, and entrepreneurism, also featured musical performances, a small business block party, and a pitch contest with $2.5 million awarded to three entrepreneurs from Williams’ Black Ambition nonprofit.
Comparing Mighty Dream to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, “but for marginalized communities,” Williams challenged other local business leaders to host events to increase opportunity for disadvantaged groups, including Black, brown and LGBTQ people.
“I know it’s sort of kumbaya-ish, but this shouldn’t be the only forum dedicated to [diversity, equity and inclusion],” he said.
During the forum, Williams also announced that his Something in the Water music festival will be returning to its Virginia Beach birthplace on April 28-30, 2023.
The festival started at the Oceanfront in 2019 but was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. In fall 2021, Williams announced he would move the festival to another city, citing his hometown’s “toxic energy,” following the March 2021 police shooting of his cousin, Donovon Lynch, and a grand jury’s decision not to indict the Virginia Beach officer who killed Lynch. The festival was held in Washington, D.C., this year.
“The demand for the festival in Virginia Beach and the 757 — among the people — has never wavered. If anything, it has only intensified,” Williams said from the Mighty Dream stage, flanked by Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby M. Dyer and other city officials.
Also during Mighty Dream, Williams spoke out to urge Norfolk to officially approve his team’s Wellness Circle redevelopment project at Military Circle Mall, saying, “The ball’s in their court.” As of early November, Norfolk officials said the project, which would include a 15,000-seat arena, a 200-room hotel and 1,100 housing units, was still under negotiation.