‘I’m not surprised that Pharrell did what he did’: Community leaders react to Something in the Water cancellation

Virginia Beach

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Community members expressed frustration and anger over the cancellation of Something in the Water, but their anger isn’t directed at organizer Pharrell Williams.

They say city leaders are responsible for not encouraging an environment of transparency or listening to calls of change from citizens.

The announcement of the cancellation came Tuesday after a letter to Virginia Beach City Manager Patrick Duhaney was released, where Williams said the city is run by a “toxic energy” and hasn’t valued his proposed solutions.

Virginia Beach Councilman Aaron Rouse expressed his disappointment on social media, but also brought up a point many others in the community are raising.

In a statement on Twitter, he said, “If the city where your cousin was killed showed more concern for a festival than for the life of a deceased family member, would you still put on a festival?”

Mayor Bobby Dyer also released a full statement responding to Williams’ letter on Wednesday. Click here to read the document.

At a press conference for the Greater Hampton Roads Black Democrats, community leaders expressed their frustrations and understanding surrounding the cancellation.

“He walked away from it because they can’t even admit that somebody killed his cousin,” said Susan Hippen. “They got to smear this young man’s name.” 

In March, William’s cousin Donovon Lynch was shot and killed by a Virginia Beach police officer.

The officer who shot Lynch had a body camera, but it was turned off. Many details surrounding the circumstances of the shooting remain unknown.

“I’m not surprised that Pharrell did what he did, but the city, as he said, it is run by and with a toxic energy that has to change,” said Gary McCollum from the Virginia Beach Interdenominational Conference.

The inaugural festival in 2019 brought over $24 million to Virginia Beach and was canceled the last two years because of the pandemic.

In a letter to City Manager Patrick Duhaney, Williams said the decision to cancel came after he’s been “politely shown the door” when he’s tried offering solutions.

“He wanted to have a forum to talk about these issues around diversity and inclusion and equity and how do you bring this city together,” said McCollum. “How do you create love in the water? That’s what he wanted to do and the city rebuked that.”

Community leaders say the move isn’t just about the cancellation of an event. It’s even greater than the money it brings into the city.

They say it highlights the need for change amongst city leadership, and for greater transparency between the city’s leaders and their constituents.

“We had to fight to get a review panel to come and say, ‘City Council, this is what you should do.’ All they got to do is look at the cities around us. They don’t want to do it,” said Hippen.

Some in the community remain optimistic, as long as unity continues to be the end goal for the community.

“It’s hard because we all love our city, but we want our city to do best for its people and for the community on a whole,” said Dr. Amelia Ross-Hammond from the Virginia African American Cultural Center. “And I think we can come together the sooner, the better.”

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