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Pharrell's Mighty Dream Forum arrives in Norfolk, bringing panels, entertainment with it

"If you have 757 blood in your body this is what you should be doing," Pharrell said. "Everyone here wants a shot, and opportunity."

NORFOLK, Va. — Pharrell Williams is back in Hampton Roads, and Tuesday, he's brought the party with him for the Mighty Dream Forum.

Pharrell grew up in the area and organized Something in the Water, a music festival that brought a lot of tourism to Virginia Beach before the pandemic. He also put on the "Elephant in the Room" business panel last October.

At this November's multi-day event, he's (again) focusing specifically on businesses. It started with a press briefing Tuesday morning and will wrap up Thursday night.

His organization describes the Mighty Dream Forum as an event where "matters of business, thought leadership, idea exchange, networking, progressive conversation and amazing food intersect with people of color, set against a backdrop of community engagement and jaw-dropping entertainment."

RELATED: Panelists excited for three-day Mighty Dream Forum

Many of the events were ticketed, and have been sold out for some time, but there are some free ones that you can still attend.

The assembly lobby on Granby Street and East Freemason Street will have free events running throughout Tuesday.

What led to this forum?

Reporter Alex Littlehales asked Pharrell about the origins of the Mighty Dream Forum early Tuesday morning.

“This is not about me, this is what we should all be doing," he said. "If you have 757 blood in your body this is what you should be doing. Should be having forums, festivals, events to raise awareness for this area. Unfortunately what happens to be a popular thing here is that people hoard it, they get the success and hoard it and take pride in it. But that’s not who I am. I don’t think the 757 is. Everyone here wants a shot, and opportunity."

He said the mightiest dream a person can have, is a dream for others.

“The easiest way for us to do that is set an example. This shouldn’t be the only forum for diversity equity and inclusion. This should be one of many."

RELATED: Pharrell's YELLOW organization to discuss education at Mighty Dream Forum

At "Mighty Dream... Loading," Pharrell said this was an extension of 2021's Elephant in the Room. They just didn't want to call it that, since we're a week from Election Day, and the elephant could be seen as a political symbol.

"It was like $13 trillion in representation onstage [last year]," he said. "And this year, it'll be north of $56 trillion."

He said the Mighty Dream is an homage to Langston Hughes' mighty dream.

"To come and explain to you, and explain to our whole entire MSA, the value of people in marginalized communities, and what we can bring -- Black and Brown, LGBTQIA -- all the opportunity that is here, the untapped potential; that is essentially what this is all about."

Elephant in the Room Redux

With so much of the forum still ahead on Wednesday and Thursday, organizers brought attention to how it was all born.

Last year’s Elephant in the Room at Norfolk State University served as the pilot for what is now Mighty Dream Forum.

The first event generated $8 million in partnerships for the HBCU, NSU President Dr. Javaune Gaston-Adams revealed to the crowd and Pharrell Williams on Tuesday night.

“We can do great things,” said Dr. Gaston-Adams.

Business executives, nonprofit organizers, and industry leaders also took the stage, including rapper and Hampton Roads native Pusha T.

"It's just been a good year, a really good year,” Pusha T said, regarding his music career and various ventures in corporate America.

Panelists highlighted growth since 2021’s Elephant in the Room, while flexing what the future holds.

"Here, there's a narrative that's authenticity,” said Shu Nyatta with Bicycle Capital.

"We have that opportunity. Now is the time,” Pharrell said.

For Allen Young, the owner of Major Phillie Cheesesteaks on Granby Street, the forum serves as a learning opportunity.

"I just wanted to get more information about diversity and inclusion, about opportunities for African American businesses and all businesses in general,” said Young.

He also expressed excitement for catering breakfast on the third day of the forum.

“Us coming together can do so much more. there's so much potential in the 757,” said Kimberly Selden, who is attending the forum on behalf of Black Girls Tennis Club.

Selden also looks forward to hosting a discussion in the NEON District on the second day of the forum.

"We want to dive in around the conversation of joy, equity, how to access it, why it's important,” said Selden.

And during a panel Tuesday night, Pharrell verbally committed to holding another Mighty Dream Forum next year.

Mighty Dream speakers want to shape the next generation

Dozens of speakers are by Pharrell William's side as he kicked off the first day of the Mighty Dream Forum.

The lineup included those who are dedicated to improving Black lives and bringing wealth to the Hampton Roads area. One speaker was Bayo Akomolafe, who said new perspectives are needed.

"Sometimes we are stuck in a cycle of repeatability, even when we think we are solving our problems," said Akomolafe. "It's not a matter of doing more, it's about seeing where we are."

Akomolafe said it's all right to get a little uncomfortable, and that uncomfortable discussions are part of the solution. Akomolafe believes as a society we need to "slow down" instead of speeding up, and that as a whole community the world must look get out of our patterns.

"It's to learn how to think with the world," said Akomolafe. "It's to learn how to listen to the world and to find other ways of how to be in the world that is not a reproduction of that troubling cyclisty."

Akomolafe was not the only speaker to attend the first day of the Mighty Dream Forum. Panelist William Houston led a discussion on the need for more Black entrepreneurs in the community and the future of business. 

"You hear a lot about the idea of a lone wolf," said Houston. "We want to break that idea. Black entrepreneurs have a community, they have a wolf pack behind them."

Despite a rocky economy, Houston said the number of Black entrepreneurs is on the rise and he wants to encourage that growth. He called his first day on the Mighty Dream Forum as a chance to clear some of the obstacles Black entrepreneurs face.

"It is very difficult to find a group of people that want to see them grow and be successful," said Houston. "This changes that, we can all be a part of this if we just support one another."

Houston said even more events are planned for Wednesday to help the next generation of Black men and women. 

Black Ambition Demo Day lets entrepreneurs share their stories

In one of the Mighty Dream Forum’s first sessions, Pharrell’s non-profit initiative awarded thousands of dollars to Black and Latinx entrepreneurs.

The Black Ambition talk showcased trailblazing Black and Latinx entrepreneurs. Two-time Emmy winner Mario Armstrong was hosting it.

Reporter Kaicey Baylor was there when $750,000 went to about a dozen people, in hopes to either enhance or create their companies

Pharrell told people his team started "Black Ambition" because they felt like Black and Latinx businesses often don't have a voice.

"In order for us to have a voice and agency, we need to own things,” he said.

Felecia Hatcher, the CEO of Black Ambition, said around the same time many companies worked to add diversity and inclusivity following the death of George Floyd two years ago, Pharrell worked to put together Black Ambition.

This is the second-year leaders awarded tens of thousands of dollars to Black and Latinx entrepreneurs.

Black Ambition still has more checks to give out. Several entrepreneurs competed in the organization’s pitch competition. The top winners will receive $1 million. Those awards will be given out at the dinner with a ‘Dinner With a Purpose’ event Thursday night.

RELATED: Anticipation grows ahead of Mighty Dream Forum

What else is Pharrell up to?

The forum kicked off the same day that Pharrell made the front cover of Rolling Stone with a musician from South Korean band BTS.

The two talked about collaborating on a song for Pharrell's next album.

Pharrell also announced on his Instagram that he'd be dropping a new song with Travis Scott on Friday.

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