Music producer Pharrell Williams is still coping with the loss of his cousin Donovon Lynch, who was fatally shot by a Virginia Beach police officer in March.
Lynch was one of two people killed during festivities the weekend of March 26. Police claim the Virginia Beach Oceanfront shooting was in response to Lynch pulling out a gun — an allegation that has been questioned by Lynch’s father.
However, for Williams, the process of healing has just begun. At the time of his cousin’s death, Williams shared on social that Lynch “was a bright light and someone who always showed up for others.” The University of Virginia graduate was laid to rest in April.
“We had to bury my cousin on my birthday [April 5]” Pharell told Town & Country magazine in a June profile published this week. “It was bittersweet. The way he died was bitter. Where he is right now is sweet.”
On social the “Happy” singer wrote then, “Thank you God for my 48th lap around the Sun. This one is symbolic and a first because I had to speak at my cousin’s funeral, and was choked up with emotions. Too many unanswered City and State questions. Respectfully, I am calling for a Federal investigation. I also humbly ask that you all keep the family in prayer. His name is Donovon Wayne Lynch.”
Williams believes his cousin’s death is yet another reminder of the injustices inflicted upon Black people at the hands of cops and a system rooted in oppression. “It’s not just the loss of life. It’s also the cause of the loss of life. And it’s a much larger problem, you know?” the 13-time Grammy award winner told the Town & Country interviewer while opening up about the impact the shooting has had on him.
“Knowing that if Donovon had been white he wouldn’t have gotten shot multiple times and left in the street for an inhumane amount of time, till the next morning, no gun in hand — that’s gravity,” he said. “The race of the officer doesn’t pertain to the conversation, because if Donovon had been white they would have never shot him like that.”
“As a Black person, when you’re born in this country, you immediately feel a much heavier gravity. The gravity is one that we see in our rules and regulations and laws,” said Williams. “We see it in the lack of options. We see it in what we’re fed, what is marketed to us. We see it in broken educational systems.”
But Williams isn’t just pointing out America’s flawed ways, he is also trying to effect a positive change of his own. Last year he launched Black Ambition, a nonprofit “committed to leveling the playing field and fostering the ingenuity, determination, and resilience of underrepresented entrepreneurs” in tech, design, healthcare, and consumer products/services start-ups.
“It’s time for us to be part of the American pie chart,” he added. Black Ambition partner Virgil Abloh believes “Black Ambition is really a monument to experimenting in how” to combat systemic racism. But Williams’ efforts are not limited to business. The creative genius is also reshaping educational experiences for children in his hometown of Virginia Beach with his nonprofit YELLOW. Williams said YELLOW’s team of change-makers is focused on a holistic approach to curriculum, immersive learning experiences, and equipping every type of learner with skills for the future.
Moving forward as an activist against police brutality remains a work in progress for Williams as he grapples with his cousin’s death.
“I’m still processing. I don’t really have a lot of answers at the moment,” said Williams. But he does know Lynch’s legacy will forever be amplified during the producer’s soon-to-be annual music and culture festival, “Something in the Water.”
“There will definitely be an ode to him, because he served ‘Something in the Water.’ He is always going to be tied to the festival in some way, shape, or form.”