NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — While Pharrell Williams no longer lives in Hampton Roads full time, he keeps a close eye on local issues and has no issue making his thoughts known about them.
On Tuesday, as the Virginia Beach native turned music superstar and businessman was kicking off his business-centric Mighty Dream Forum in Norfolk, he addressed the ongoing controversy surrounding nightlife in the downtown business community saying it “wasn’t cool.”
In the last year, a majority of Norfolk City Council members have voted to revoke permits for five different nightlife establishments in the city, four of them being in their downtown cultural arts district.
The review of bar and restaurant Conditional Use Permits began following an uptick in violence in the city. A majority of those businesses that lost their right to sell alcohol and provide entertainment until 2 a.m. are Black-owned businesses that serve a predominantly Black clientele.
Watch Pharrell’s full interview with WAVY’s Brett Hall
Two business owners have taken the city to court in an effort to have the decision reversed. Others have called the decisions racially motivated.
City Manager Chip Filer has dismissed accusations that the businesses were singled out. Rather, he said the city is “making sure all businesses are following the rules.”
However, Williams, whose forum is sponsored by the city and aims at helping to bring more positive financial outcomes for people of color, has a different take.
‘I don’t like it, I don’t think it’s fair,” Williams said. “If they really cared about helping, they would go and talk to these people and help them and educate them and say ‘Hey this is not going to fly’ … but you shut it down and you showboat.”
The city is planning to spend $120,000 to hire Safe Night LLC to help them implement a new nightlife management strategy.
Williams’ strategy? He said he will continue to invest in his hometown region to show “what is possible” when marginalized groups are listened to. He said even with Virginia’s complicated past with race, he has hope.
“I’ve been chased down the street. Called the n-word before. But I came back. I’m right here,” Williams said. “Why? Because I really do believe that there is a mighty dream waiting to happen in this area.”