Pharrell’s Mighty Dream forum coming to Norfolk Nov. 1-3
Event to include Google, H&M execs
Executives from Google, H&M, Universal Music Group, Yelp and McDonald’s will join Grammy winner Pharrell Williams Nov. 1-3 in Norfolk for his Mighty Dream forum, a sequel to last fall’s Elephant in the Room event.
Along with panel discussions and networking events focused on making work and business opportunities more equitable and supporting and growing Black-owned businesses, the conference will include a small business-focused block party and nightly concerts.
Last October’s Elephant in the Room event at Norfolk State University included discussions with business leaders co-moderated by Williams, who is involved in two major Hampton Roads developments — the redevelopment of Military Circle Mall and the Atlantic Park surf park project in Virginia Beach.
Williams also is the force behind Something in the Water, which debuted in 2019 on Virginia Beach’s Oceanfront, but he moved the music festival to Washington, D.C., this summer, after announcing in 2021 that he was pulling the festival from his hometown because of the city’s “toxic energy,” including the police shooting of his cousin.
Despite this, the music and fashion superstar maintains close ties to Norfolk and, in particular, Norfolk State University, where he has twice addressed graduating classes. Mighty Dream, while featuring appearances by Williams and fellow Hampton Roads hip-hop star Pusha T, as well as musical performances, will be more focused on business.
In an interview with Virginia Business in January, Williams said he planned the conference to include “full days of caucuses and panels,” featuring Fortune 500 business leaders but also including Norfolk and Virginia Beach voices — a cross between Davos, Switzerland’s World Economic Forum and Austin, Texas’ South by Southwest. The focus, the Virginia Beach native says, is to provide more economic opportunities for the region and make them more equitable for underrepresented groups, particularly Black residents.
Executives slated to participate include Felecia Hatcher, CEO of Williams’ Black Ambition Opportunity Fund, which provides grants to diverse entrepreneurs; Corey Smith, vice president of diversity and inclusion at LVMH Inc., the holding corporation that owns Louis Vuitton and other luxury companies; Stacey Owsley, executive director of Yellow, Williams’ nonprofit educational organization, which started the Yellowhab school in Norfolk; former NBA all-star Joakim Noah, who is an ambassador to the Basketball Africa League and an investor in NBA Africa; and Lisa Osborne Ross, the U.S. CEO of Edelman, the global public relations firm. Astronaut Leland Melvin, comedian and actor Hannibal Buress and Google Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Melonie Parker are also scheduled to appear.
The three-day event kicks off Nov. 1 with “Black Ambition Demo Day,” a showcase of “trailblazing Black and Latinx entrepreneurs,” including a special guest and a conversation with 2021 grand prize winners. Williams will take part in several panels, including several business leaders, angel investors and NSU President Javaune Adams-Gaston, who will provide updates on what has happened since Elephant in the Room. A “Business Block Party” is scheduled the evening of Nov. 2, with small businesses, organizations and food trucks setting up in the NEON District, and on Nov. 3, H&M’s Annie Wu, who leads the clothing retailer‘s global diversity and equity efforts, will discuss her company’s path to becoming more inclusive.
A full schedule is available at mightydreamforum.com.
Mighty Dream will also feature evening concerts at local music venues around Norfolk. Tickets for daytime events are available at mightydreamforum.com, with three-day badges ranging from $75 for students up to $3,500 for “C-Suite level” access.