Pharrell announced alongside Virginia Governor Ralph Northam that Juneteenth (June 19), the day celebrating the end of American slavery, will become a paid holiday for state employees during a press conference Tuesday (June 16).
The Virginia Beach native and multihyphenate musician explained the history of Virginia as tied to slavery, where ships first brought kidnapped and enslaved Africans, some of which Pharrell pointed out included his own ancestors, to America 400 years ago. In a phone conversation with Governor Northam last weekend, the 47-year-old superstar discussed making Juneteenth a paid holiday to properly commemorate the end of slavery that began right there in the state, cementing this year’s holiday as one of proper recognition, observation and celebration of freedom for Black Americans.
“From this moment on when you look up, you look at the vastness of the night sky. And you see those stars moving up there. Know that those stars are our African ancestors dancing,” he said at the podium. “They’re dancing in celebration because their lives are finally being acknowledged. And I can’t say it too many times up here today, a paid holiday. It’s not the end of it. It’s merely just the beginning. Their lives matter. Their descendants’ lives matter. Black lives matter in the eyes of the commonwealth.”
While introducing Pharrell, Governor Northam said he previously discussed statewide “healing and unity” with him in light of the international protests rebuking the killings of multiple Black Americans.
“You know Pharrell has worked through his music to make Juneteenth more known and understood in our culture,” he said while introducing him to the podium. “I watched him bring together people last year with the Something in the Water festival.”
Pharrell launched the first-ever Something in the Water festival last year, highlighting the multi-day musical and cultural event as a way “to unite the community and celebrate the diversity and magic of Virginia Beach,” according to a press release. But the “Happy” artist teased another cultural project he’s working on during the briefing.
“I’m personally working on a new project to propel some of the brightest minds and ideas emerging from some of our HBCUs (historically Black colleges and universities),” Pharrell announced toward the end of his speech. “The strong leaders coming out of those schools are what the world needs right now, and especially right now. Today’s announcement is much about the new generation as it is our African ancestors in the sky.”
Watch a snippet of the press conference featuring Pharrell and Governor Northam below.