The little boy named Carter raced up to greet his mother as she made history.
Georgia State Senator Nikema Williams (D-39) opened her arms wide to grab hold of her son. She will always remember that moment, the day she became the first black woman to hold title and space as the state Democratic Party chairwoman.
As she successfully navigates the competing worlds of career and family, this Women’s History Month, The Atlanta Voice gets up close and personal with Williams as she carves out time in her schedule to talk about her vision, politics and her will to win.
Atlanta Voice: For people unfamiliar with the inner workings of state politics, describe your primary function as the chairwoman of the state Democratic party? What opportunities for growth or improvement in the state party do you envision making an impact on?
Sen. Williams: The role of the party chair is always evolving, but I personally believe it is my role to provide a vision of what our Party looks like, how it operates, and how our state should be governed.
I want to make sure we are prioritizing access to the ballot. We are going to make it easier to vote in this state, not harder. I also consider it a priority to support our local party affiliates. We must take our message to every corner of this state.
Georgia Democrats are carrying the message of affordable healthcare, livable wages, and fair and free access to the ballot.
I campaigned on a platform with several major initiatives. I plan to create a grant program for the county party and Congressional District chairs. We are going to pool our resources together to ensure local organizations can obtain the funding they need.
I also plan to bring new people into the party by building a powerful progressive structure through our allies in the state. There are so many groups engaging Georgia residents on progressive issues, and I am going to bring them together.
One of my most ambitious goals is creating a year-round statewide field program, so we will not stop communicating our message to the voters just because an election cycle is over.
Atlanta Voice: Many make mention you are the first black woman to hold the office. How does your experience and cultural background inform how you plan to fulfill your responsibilities and duties as Chair?
Sen. Williams: My experiences as a Black woman drive me to fight for progress.
Historically, the Democratic Party has not always spoken directly to communities of color, but I plan to lead an inclusive party.
I know firsthand the struggle that many communities of color are facing because I have lived them every single day of my life, and we cannot afford to stay silent on those issues.
I will use my lived experiences to inform the changes we must make.
AV: How do you plan to connect to working-class white men and women who no longer see the value in union organizing, who further feel threatened by the influx of undocumented workers and many workplace diversity and inclusion initiatives currently affecting today’s labor market?
Williams: Nobody can deny that there are divisions in our state, but I know that despite these divisions, the Democratic Party carries a message of unity.
Everybody wants to make sure they can send their kids to school, put food on their table, and take their kids to the doctor. Republican leadership has failed people throughout Georgia.
Whether they have lost their jobs, they cannot get the healthcare they deserve, or they are working several full-time jobs and are still struggling to support their families, the Democratic Party will fight for them.
AV: You served on the state DNC Committee that drafted the party’s platform in 2011. How did you contribute to the development of this platform?
Williams: I have not had the privilege of serving on the DNC platform committee.
While not a member, I have worked with other Georgia Democrats to ensure certain core beliefs were included in the platform such as protecting a woman’s right to make personal healthcare decisions.
Additionally, as a delegate to the 2016 DNC convention, I’m proud to have supported and voted for the most progressive platform in the history of our party.
AV: You are on quoted in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, saying you “oversaw some of the darkest days and times of our party” in reference to stepping in as Acting Chair. What made those times dark? What did you learn about leadership and public service during those darkest days?
Williams: Seventeen years ago, I got involved with the Democratic Party of Georgia. I joined the Young Democrats of Atlanta and haven’t looked back since. In 2013, as 1st Vice Chair, I became interim chair when our then-chair resigned.
I took this role seriously, and even took a leave of absence from my full time paid job to lead our party. As interim chair, I had to make tough decisions that weren’t always welcomed by some people in our party leadership. I had to lay off staff and close regional offices.
I quickly realized the full meaning of Albert Einstein’s quote, “What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right.”
AV: Any particular moment in your childhood or youth that left a lasting impression and birthed your desire to seek public office?
Williams: I have several memories from growing up that I would not truly understand the significance of until later in life. I would eventually realize that my drive to fight for lasting change was instilled in me by my family.
In elementary school, I would spend long hours with my grandfather talking to our neighbors about voting. We would drive around our neighborhood while I jumped off the back of his pickup truck and place slate cards on our neighbors’ doors.
I did not realize the significance of this work at the time, but I did know that it mattered.
Then, in ninth-grade, I remember seeing my great-aunt Autherine Lucy in my Alabama history textbook. She integrated the University of Alabama, and, similar to canvassing, I did not understand the significance at the time.
As I grew older and began reflecting on these experiences, I began to understand how my upbringing led to my career.
AV: What are your most memorable achievements you recall making while serving as a member of the Young Democrats?
Williams: My most memorable moment as Young Democrat was the summer of 2013 in San Antonio, Texas. In the 81-year history of the organization, there had never been a black president.
I was honored to place the name into the nomination of Atima Omara as the first black president of the Young Democrats Of America.
AV: Some people only look at a picture and never read the whole article, what would you want the caption to read underneath a photograph of yourself in the paper?
Williams: [I am] “Living My Ancestors Wildest Dreams”
AV: What do you believe is the biggest misconception about you?
Williams: I currently work in multiple roles for different organizations, and people underestimate my ability to effectively fulfill all of them. I am a mom, a Senator, a wife, and DPG Chair.
I love all of these roles, and work hard to make sure that I effectively can do all at once. We all live intersectional lives and I can’t separate or segment any part of who I am.
AV: If you were not an elected official, what other career or line of work would you consider?
Williams: I am honored to serve as an elected official and now Chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia. But if I had to consider another line of work, I would love to be a College Football commentator! #RollTide