SITW: Capitalize on the momentum

Something in the Water kick-started conversations about race, faith and society. Let’s keep them going

Pharrell Williams has made good on his promise to amplify the spirit of Virginia Beach by organizing an Oceanfront festival just a few miles from where he grew up.

He is a man of extraordinary talent and vision and should be heralded as such. But it is incumbent upon Hampton Roads to continue what the Something in the Water festival started. That is, let’s continue to talk about race, faith and fun, and how we can further strengthen the connective glue that binds our communities together.

Mr. Williams announced in January his intention to host a festival that would combine the musical talents he has collaborated with throughout the past 25 years with presentations related to technology, art, food and fashion. He envisioned it as a panacea to problems associated with the unstructured college beach week that normally takes place at the end of April each year at the Oceanfront.

To that end, he did not disappoint last weekend.

Beyond the main stage, the conversations that took place about race, business and community must have a lasting impact.

Society is undoubtedly waging war against the gangs and other corrosive elements that can snatch the productive future from young people well before they have an opportunity to develop.

It is our job, as a collective society, to fight back by providing the tools necessary to lift young people out of cycles that lead to poverty and prison.

The festival curated discussions about how to get a job in the tech sector and breaking into music publishing. A Shark Tank-style pitch competition awarded seed money and provided professional coaching to emerging entrepreneurs.

The convention center hosted discussions about how black millennials can explore their faith, equality in education and empowering women. Organizations such as the National Museum of African American History & Culture and the Pew Research Center participated, as did authors, business professionals, national recording artists — many of whom live here in Hampton Roads.

On Sunday, local churches combined with national Christian artists during a pop-up church service open to the entire community, regardless of whether they purchased a ticket to the festival.

And that is the creative genius that Mr. Williams cultivated. He took the DNA that already exists in Hampton Roads and put it on a pedestal for all to see.

This region is home to a goldmine of experienced and upcoming talent, and the relationships built over the weekend must continue forward to evolve into something larger than a three-day festival could ever provide.

What would that network look like?

Consider what the nonprofit 100 Black Men of the Virginia Peninsula organization do to connect children with positive male role models. The group’s mentors focus on teaching kids about work ethic, conflict resolution and other life skills. 100 Black men also provide scholarships, organizes free health screenings and has programs to help the parents of kids being mentored. Visit the group’s website at 100blackmenva.org for details about their programs.

Urban League of Hampton Roads serves to enable African Americans and other minority groups to secure economic self-reliance by providing services and programs in education, employment, health and housing. Find them at ulhr.org.

Organizations such as Volunteer Hampton Roads are connecting volunteers with the organizations that need more hands and hearts to fulfill their missions. Visit volunteerhr.org to search for opportunities that interest you.

Colleges, universities and museums on the Peninsula also host a variety of lectures and discussions about race, education, business, as well as a variety of other substantive topics.

Our leaders must do all they can to ensure these organizations have venues and opportunities to thrive. After all, their missions focus on strengthening communities one person at a time.

Something in the Water left its thumbprint on the community. And Mr. Williams is promising to hold a similar event in 2020.

But we cannot rely on him alone to embrace the creativity, spirituality and entrepreneurship highlighted during the festival during the remaining 51 weeks of the year.

Something in the Water was a Rorschach test for many in this region, giving them an opportunity to interpret what they saw. Either traffic or the perceived trouble crowds might create kept them from the Oceanfront last weekend. Or they saw it as an opportunity to engage in fun, faith and deeper conversations about society.

From the stage on Saturday, Mr. Williams mentioned the 1989 Greekfest that ended in riots between police and visitors, and he promised Something in the Water would not be a repeat performance.

With fears allayed, what can Hampton Roads and the Peninsula do when we come together? The odds are the answer will be something truly special.

Copyright © 2019, The Virginia Gazette
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