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‘I don’t like it, I don’t think it’s fair,’ Pharrell Williams says of Norfolk’s recent actions on nightclubs

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NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – While Pharrell Williams no longer lives in Hampton Roads full-time, he keeps a close eye on local issues and has no problem making his thoughts on them known.

On Tuesday, as the Virginia Beach native became a music superstar and the businessman launched his business-centric pursuit Mighty Dream Forum in Norfolk he addressed the ongoing controversy around nightlife in the inner city business community saying “it wasn’t cool”.

Over the past year, a majority of members of Norfolk City Council have voted to revoke the licenses of five different nightlife establishments in the city, four of which are in their downtown Cultural Arts District.

The review of conditional use permits for bars and restaurants has begun following an upsurge in violence in the city. The majority of these businesses that have lost their right to sell alcohol and provide entertainment until 2 a.m. are black-owned businesses that serve a predominantly black clientele.

Watch Pharrell’s Full Interview With WAVY’s Brett Hall

Two business leaders sued the city in order to overturn the decision. Others called the decisions racially motivated.

City Manager Chip Filer dismissed accusations that the businesses were isolated out. Instead, he said the city “makes sure all businesses play by the rules.”

However, Williams, whose forum is sponsored by the city and aims to help bring more positive financial outcomes to people of color, takes a different view.

“I don’t like it, I don’t think it’s fair,” Williams said. “If they really cared to help, they would go talk to these people, help them, educate them and say ‘Hey, it’s not going to fly’…but you stop it and you demonstrate.”

The city plans to spend $120,000 to hire Safe Night LLC to help them implement a new nightlife management strategy.

Williams’ strategy? He said he would continue to invest in his home region to show “what is possible” when marginalized groups are listened to. He said even with Virginia’s complicated past with the breed, he has hope.

“I was chased down the street. Called the n-word before. But I came back. I’m here,” Williams said. “Why? Because I truly believe there is a big dream waiting to come true in this area.

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