Pharrell Williams Helps Declare Juneteenth a State Holiday in Virginia: "This Is Our Chance to Lead"

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Pharrell Williams has just made history in his home state of Virginia. On Tuesday, the 47-year-old musician participated in a press conference with Virginia Governor Ralph Northam to officially declare June 19 — also known as Juneteenth and Freedom Day — a state holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the US.

"Finally, we recognize that Black lives absolutely matter."

In his speech, Pharrell called the move "very special" and "a big display of progress." "From this moment on, when you look at the vastness of the night sky, and you see those stars moving up there, know that those stars are our African ancestors dancing. They're dancing in celebration because their lives are finally being acknowledged," he began. "It's not the end of it, it's merely just the beginning. Their lives matter, their descendants' lives matter, Black lives matter in the eyes of the Commonwealth . . . Finally, we recognize that Black lives absolutely matter."

Pharrell mentioned how he called Governor Northam over the weekend to discuss why it was time for Virginia to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday and emphasized the importance of change. "This is what listening looks like," he said. "This is our chance in Virginia to lead by example. This is our chance to lead, to truly embrace the importance of Juneteenth and treat it as a celebration of freedom that Black people deserve."

According to Governor Northam, all state employees in the executive branch will be given a paid day off on June 19. Pharrell then called for businesses to follow in their footsteps, adding, "I would like to see corporations who call Virginia their home lead the rest of the country, give people the paid day off, so we can all stand in solidarity."

Pharrell concluded his speech with an important note: "Setting a new standard and leading how states observe Juneteenth is important because it implies that there will be others to follow, and there will be others to follow." Watch Pharrell's powerful speech in the video above at the 22:15 mark.