NORFOLK, Virginia (AP) – Grammy-winning musician Pharrell Williams called on the youngest graduates of a historically black university in Virginia on Saturday to act like “the rising majority” and contribute to the development of the region’s businesses and culture.
Williams gave the fall speech at Norfolk State University, not far from where the producer and rapper grew up in neighboring Virginia Beach.
“I didn’t visit Norfolk State, but I was always there,” said Williams. “I am honored to have done this part of my job, my history, and to this day I can’t wait to see how far you great, formidable Norfolk State University graduates will go.”
Williams received the school’s honorary doctorate and was also made an honorary member of the Norfolk State Marching Band – which moved him to tears, reported The Virginian Pilot of Norfolk.
Prior to the presentation, Willams said he remembered the band as a kid and wondered why the band lacked the same “cadence” in his high school in Virginia Beach as it did in Norfolk State.
“I wanted to be able to make people feel like I was with the Norfolk State band,” he said.
Williams said the city of Norfolk will thrive because it recognizes the importance of recognizing past and local heroes: “Norfolk will not be the city that limits its people’s own potential, but instead feeds them.”
He urged listeners to do their part by spending money on local businesses to take care of it and changing outdated language such as the word “minorities”.
“We are the emerging majority,” he said. “Don’t wait until election day. Vote today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow with your wallet. “
Williams has had a strained relationship with the city of Virginia Beach lately. He criticized the city months ago for its reaction to the death of his cousin who was shot dead by a police officer on the city’s coast in March. Two weeks ago it was revealed that a grand jury had justified the officers for the fatal shootout.
Williams wrote to city officials last month that he was not bringing his “Something in the Water” music festival back to the city’s coast, in part because of the way the city handled the investigation.