"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," the musician said in a press conference

By Gabrielle Chung
Updated June 16, 2020 11:20 PM
Advertisement
Pharrell Williams
YouTube

Pharrell Williams just helped make history in his home state of Virginia.

On Tuesday, the musician, 47, joined Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam in a press conference to announce that June 19 — known as Juneteenth — will officially be recognized as a state holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States.

Williams, who grew up in Virginia Beach, called the move "a big display of progress" amid ongoing nationwide protests over racial injustice.

“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,” he said. “They’re dancing in celebration because their lives are finally being acknowledged.”

Reflecting on a conversation he had with Northam over the weekend about Juneteenth, Williams said, "This is what listening looks like."

"This is our chance 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," he said.

"This is about proper recognition," Williams continued. "This is the chance for our government, our corporations and our citizens to all stand in solidarity with their African-American brothers and sisters."

All state employees in the executive branch will be given a paid day off on Juneteenth, according to Northam.

In his speech, Williams called for businesses to follow suit, saying, "I would like to see corporations that call Virginia their home give people the paid day off."

"There is no turning back," he added. "We are only moving one direction now: forward."

Pharrell Williams
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

While Juneteenth is not a federal holiday, major companies such as Twitter, Square, Nike, Meredith Corporation, owner of PEOPLE, and the NFL recently announced they will be recognizing June 19 as a company holiday for its employees.

Earlier in June, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said the holiday will mark a time of "celebration, education, and connection" for employees at both the social media company and Square.

"Both Twitter and Square are making #Juneteenth (June 19th) a company holiday in the US, forevermore," Dorsey, 43, tweeted.

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free weekly newsletter to get the biggest news of the week delivered to your inbox every Friday.

"Countries and regions around the world have their own days to celebrate emancipation, and we will do the work to make those dates company holidays everywhere we are present," he added.

Last week, Nike and the NFL announced plans to make Juneteenth a company holiday beginning this year.

“This year, as we work together as a family and in our communities to combat the racial injustices that remain deeply rooted into the fabric of our society, the NFL will observe Juneteenth on Friday, June 19th as a recognized holiday and our league offices will be closed," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement that went out to teams Friday, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

RELATED VIDEO: Lizzo Breaks Down While Addressing Racism amid Protests: 'Open Your Mind, Open Your Heart'

"It is a day to reflect on our past, but more importantly, consider how each one of us can continue to show up and band together to work toward a better future," he added.

Meanwhile, Nike CEO John Donahoe issued a similar statement to employees, declaring that Juneteenth will be an annual paid holiday.

In the memo, Donahue said the recognition is an “important opportunity to better commemorate and celebrate Black history and culture,” according to Forbes.

“When we say that Black Lives Matter, it applies to the world outside of Nike and, importantly, it applies to our Black teammates within Nike. Simply put, we need to hold ourselves to a high standard given the heritage of our company and our brand,” he said.

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

• Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.

ColorofChange.org works to make the government more responsive to racial disparities.

• National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help black youth succeed in college and beyond.