by Kerry Dougherty
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say Pharrell Williams is much more than a hugely successful rapper, musician and songwriter.
He’s something of a visionary.
Where others see insurmountable problems, Pharrell finds opportunity.
For instance, Virginia Beach struggled for years with the annual College Beach Weekend in April when tens of thousands of mostly African American students would flock to the beach for a three-day party.
Too many young people, too little to do plus an influx of troublemakers meant the celebration often turned violent. After years of problems, tensions between the city and the revelers were raw.
The Beach native saw the situation and came up with a plan. Just like that, Something In the Water 2019 was born.
Thanks to Pharrell Williams, the city’s most problematical weekend of the year was transformed into its most memorable. There were huge, well-behaved crowds, few problems, terrific music and a Sunday pop-up church service on the beach.
Unfortunately, the governor’s Covid restrictions resulted in SITW being cancelled in 2020 and 2021 and the festival lost its momentum.
Virginia Beach needs SITW 2022. I hope it happens.
All of the credit for this stunning Beach College Weekend turnaround goes to Williams, who holds deep affection for his hometown and has a vision for this region that’s both breathtaking and inclusive.
Now Pharrell has turned his attention to education. The Princess Anne High School alum plans to open the first in a chain of private “micro schools” this fall offering individualized learning to underprivileged kids.
Low-income families will be able to give their kids a private education. Just like their middle class counterparts.
According to The Virginian-Pilot, the first school will be in the Ghent section of Norfolk with other local schools to follow. Initially, tuition will be free, underwritten by Pharrell’s nonprofit and the Walton Family Foundation.
Say what you want about Walmart, but the founders do a lot of good with their loot.
So does Pharrell.
The rapper knows that low-income kids struggle mightily in school. Being out of class for a year during the COVID shutdowns was especially tough on children without resources to supplement the thin gruel being offered by shuttered public schools.
Private “bespoke” education — which will cluster kids according to their abilities not grade levels — in a small setting could be a game changer for the 40 to 50 children who will be lucky enough to enroll this fall. According to his website, Pharrell consulted with NASA scientists and “education futurists” to develop the concepts that will guide his “future-forward” schools.
Skeptics might question whether these abstract notions will translate into success for the kids. Warning to naysayers: Do not underestimate Pharrell Williams.