An Interview with Office of Minority Affairs Director Nichelle Williams Nix

The Business Council of Alabama sat down with attorney Nichelle Williams Nix, director of the Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs, for an email interview about her office and what she and it has been doing since its creation last year. The BCA supported creation of the GOMA that signals the value of diversity in the state.

BCA: Tell us about the OMA and its role.

Nichelle Williams Nix: “The Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs was originally created by the governor in March 2016, by executive order at the request of the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus. Shortly after, the Alabama Legislature passed legislation officially making this office a cabinet-level agency, a first in Alabama’s history, and only the second such office in the nation.

“The mission of GOMA is to ensure the inclusion of women and minorities in the success and prosperity of the State of Alabama. This agency focuses on addressing issues important to women and all minority communities, including healthcare, housing, civil rights, economic development, education, voting rights, empowerment, and criminal justice. This agency is tasked with diversifying statewide commissions and task forces and also works closely with the state’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities.”

BCA: What is your role?

Nichelle Williams Nix: “As the first director of GOMA, I helped set the vision and structure of the office. My first task as director was working with the leadership of the black caucus and other key members to successfully get legislation that codified this position as cabinet-level through the Legislature. In my role as director, I provide input to the governor on issues impacting women and minority communities around the state, with the goal of creating policy and legislative recommendations to address these issues.

“My current focus for the agency is on economic development – increasing access to job-creating opportunities at the state level for minorities and women. We are approaching this in several different ways; however, our primary focus is on our Minority and Women Business Enterprise (MWBE) Initiative.

“The goal of this initiative is to increase the number of certified minority and women-owned businesses participating in the state contracting and procurement process, and to ensure the success of these businesses. This will be achieved through partnerships at the state level, working with and connecting existing business resources around the state, and implementing policy changes.”

BCA: Do you have projects you work on, give speeches, organize events?

Nichelle Williams Nix: “In addition to the MWBE Initiative, our agency is also working on an Alabama HBCU Initiative, which is focused on strengthening the relationship between state government and the state’s HBCUs, while also establishing a pipeline between the HBCUs, industry, and corporations within the state. We are working on a Women in Business program as well.

“I am often invited to deliver speeches and have participated in forums on hot issues relevant to minority communities – with topics ranging from race and law enforcement, immigration, and diversity in higher education, to health disparities and the state of minority businesses. In August, I will be discussing our MWBE Initiative at both the Chamber of Commerce Association of Alabama’s summer conference and the Business Council of Alabama’s Governmental Affairs Conference. Our office plans to begin hosting events this fall.”

More About Nichelle Williams Nix

Director Nix was appointed by Gov. Robert Bentley on March 9, 2016, when the Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs was created by Executive Order No. 15. She was sworn in as a member of the cabinet when the Governor signed legislation establishing the Governor’s Office of Minority Affairs and the position of director as cabinet level on May 24, 2016.

In this role, Director Nix is responsible for advising the governor on issues affecting minorities, including women, focusing on the improvement of the overall quality of life of minorities, specifically in the areas of education, health, housing, employment, civil rights, criminal justice, and empowerment.

Before joining the governor’s administration, Nix was an attorney at Maynard, Cooper & Gale, P.C., in Birmingham and was a member of the firm’s governmental and regulatory affairs practice group. Prior to Maynard Cooper, Nix served as executive director of the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America in Mobile, where she oversaw the association’s operations across nine counties of southwest Alabama. While there, Nix worked to increase awareness of sickle cell disease and enhance the quality of life of those battling the disease.

Nix has also served as legislative counsel to U.S. Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham, in Washington, D.C., and as a Healthcare Fellow at the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law & Justice in Montgomery.

Nix is a graduate of Spelman College in Atlanta, where she received a Bachelor of Art’s degree in political science. She earned a Master’s of Public Health degree from Emory University, and a Juris Doctorate from The University of Alabama School of Law.

Nix is an active member of the Junior League of Birmingham, the Rotary Club of Mobile, and the Birmingham Bar Association. She has a passion for health, education, and helping those in need. Nix serves as a member of several boards, including The 7th Project and Camp Smile-A-Mile, and enjoys exploring the food scene in Birmingham with her husband, Leroy Nix.

The Mobile native was once named by The Hill as one of the “50 Most Beautiful on the Hill’ when she lived in Washington, D.C. Here’s what The Hill wrote about Nix at the time:

[box]Her mother, a “Star Trek” fan, named her after Nichelle Nichols, the stunning actress who played Lt. Uhura aboard the Starship Enterprise. Williams is as beautiful as her namesake but leads a more down-to-earth life as legislative counsel to Rep. Artur Davis, D-Birmingham.

“I don’t have too much of a social life,” she admits. “I do a lot of reading. If I’m not at work, I’m at home.”

She likes to chat on the phone with friends and her close-knit family. Growing up, she bonded with her mom in a house full of four brothers.

“I was very much a tomboy, trying to keep up with my brothers,” who were all involved in sports such as football, tennis and cross-country, she says.

Williams earned a master’s in public health at Emory University and a law degree at the University of Alabama.

Before taking a job with Davis a year and a half ago, she worked at Alabama Appleseed, a social justice advocacy group. In that job, she says, she saw firsthand the barriers that make it tough for poor people and minorities to get decent health care. Williams says the health care bill passed by Congress this year is a good first step, but far from perfect.

She hopes to switch to health care policy but wonders how much longer she can stick it out in Washington. Williams misses home, sweet home.[/box]