VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - On Friday, city leaders acknowledged the recent issues within Virginia Beach and said it's time to face them head on.
Mayor Bobby Dyer said, "We have to have those tough conversations."
Tough conversations that, some say, date back at least two years.
Councilman Michael Berlucchi said, "Something In The Water was a high point, May 31st was a low point, COVID has been a challenge, the renewed discussions and, rightfully so, about racial relations and how we connect and relate to each other as neighbors and as members of one community."
It's a community that's still healing from a mass shooting, allegations of racism between neighbors on Jessamine Court, and an officer-involved shooting that killed Donovan Lynch, Pharrell's cousin. That same night, a stray bullet also killed DeShayla Harris at the Oceanfront.
These events, in part, prompted Pharrell to cancel Something In The Water for 2022. In a letter to the city manager, Patrick Duhaney, the musical icon said there is "toxic energy" in the city.
News 3 sat down with Mayor Bobby Dyer for his perspective. He said more is being done for change behind the scenes than people realize.
He said, "That's why we're so motivated to get with Pharrell Williams and say, 'Look this is your city. It is still your city and we're working hard to overcome a lot of the perceptions and, quite frankly, problems that any city have.'"
Dyer said he doesn't believe the city is toxic and said they've created the "Mayor's IDEA Commission." IDEA stands for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility.
"Since March we've had two focus group meetings where we got a wide variety of people by race and background," he said. "We asked a diverse group of people, 'What do you think is wrong with the city? What do you think caused them? but most importantly what do you think we can do to fix them?"
Mental health, city services and housing were at the top of the list of things to fix. In the Mayor's report, the next steps forward are:
- Finalize working groups
- Survey the commission for interest in serving on a working group
- Openly communicate working groups and send out call or participation to the community
- One Virginia Plan
"I think we have to be honest about our history and we have to be honest about our feelings," Berlucchi said. "We do have some division, we have many challenges before us, but we've come through challenges with excellence."
Earlier this week, city council created a 5/31 Memorial Committee for the victims of the May 31 tragedy.
They are now accepting applications for anyone who want to be part of that process to bring a permanent memorial to Virginia Beach. Click here for details.