Interview with Ward 7's Nikki Nice: 'I'm just working to serve'
Editor's note: this is the first in a series of articles on VeloCity highlighting OKC's council members, their wards, thoughts on OKC's future and more.
Nikki Nice is a first-term City Councilor representing Ward 7 in OKC after winning a runoff election last November. She recently took the time to sit down with VeloCityOKC and tell us about her background, which led to on-air radio jobs at Perry Publishing & Broadcasting’s KRMP & KVSP in OKC as well as other markets, why she ran for city council, her thoughts on some of Ward 7’s assets (including her favorite spots to eat) and challenges, and Oklahoma City in general.
VeloCityOKC: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Councilwoman Nice: I was born and raised here. I grew up in Capitol View, attended Millwood Public Schools, and my church was literally across the street, Greater New Zion Baptist Church. From there, I went to Northeast High School to be a part of the biomedical sciences program there. I didn't want to go to Northeast, but my mom made me go to be a part of the bio-med program, but when I got there, I had 10 of my Millwood friends there with me. Their parents obviously thought it was best for them to be a part of the bio-med program too, so that pretty much made my high school transition much easier, to have some of those friends.
There I [also] did Newsroom 101, yearbook, journalism. I didn't play sports, but I was the basketball manager. I had a few favorite teachers, but one was Ms. Karen Parks [now Patton]. She was our English, yearbook, and journalism teacher. I was also afforded the opportunity to be taught by Ms. Nancy Davis, Jr. -- her mom [Nancy Randolph Davis] was the first African-American student to attend Oklahoma State University, so we got a lot of great history from Ms. Davis.
I was also part of YLX, and I did student council, so [in terms of] civic engagement, community, and leadership, those things shaped me. Even at Millwood, being a part of Brownies, and Girl Scouts, and things like that. Just being active in my church; my mom made sure I was very active in church, reading the church announcements and things like that, ushering with her.
And you are a Langston grad; what did study during college?
I started my college career at the University of Central Oklahoma... My major had always been journalism & broadcasting. I wanted to be a sportscaster, because I love sports. My favorite baseball team is the Cincinnati Reds--I'm so excited now that Matt Kemp is now a Red. And obviously the Thunder, because I was also originally a SuperSonics fan. And I am a [Dallas] Cowboys fan, because my mom was a Cowboys fan, so we would watch football on Sundays, and she pretty much taught me football, and she would scream at the TV at Tony Dorsett and all the football players.
What got me into radio was my church. We had a church broadcast on Saturdays at 1220 AM. After I did that, I was like, “I think I like this. People don't have to see me.”
Was that during college?
Yes, that was during college. With my church, I was afforded the opportunity to be a part of the Gospel Music Workshop of America. They have a Gospel Announcers Guild, which was for the Gospel announcers, and just meeting a lot of Gospel artists, understanding just the Gospel realm of radio, and how they get the music out to the listeners, and just understanding that process of radio.
That obviously introduced me to radio. By then, I had transferred to Langston at the time as well. I needed an internship, so I came and asked my, well, now former boss -- so now I should go back to tell this story.
My freshman year, I had some friends, because again I knew what I wanted to do and I said, "Can you help me see if I can get an internship at the radio station?" I went and talked to the program director, and he told me no. The reason he said he told me no was because he wanted to make sure I had some more classes. He said, "Just make sure this is something that you really want to do."
But my freshman year I was already taking broadcast classes, because I knew this is what I wanted to do. He just didn't understand my life at the time, but that's okay.
Fast forward to that time I saw him, I was working at Starbucks. I was working at Starbucks and going part-time to school, and he came in one day as a customer--
... and I remembered him, and I was making his drink. I said something like, "So, can I get an internship now?" He was looking at me like, "What are you talking about?"
Did you blow his mind a little bit?
Yeah. He said, "Oh okay, call me." I called him and then next week we talked, and by the next semester, I was interning. With that internship, it turned into a career, so I worked there for 11 and a half years, before I took this position.
And I was obtaining my journalism degree at Langston at the same time, so I finished at Langston, and I worked at the radio station at Langston as well. Once, my professor asked me to go record then-Senator Obama when he came here as he was running for president, and she wanted me to get footage… She wanted me to go to the event at the Farmers Market, so I was there back where the cameras were with CNN, ABC, all of the locals and us recording. That was pretty cool, because [at Langston] they still play that video to this day.
Where else has your career taken you?
My media career has taken me so many different places I never thought, because Perry Publishing is in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Lawton, and has five stations in Augusta, Georgia, and they had acquired stations in Fairfield, Arkansas. So over 20 stations. With that, my voice was able to be heard in all of those markets, … and there I got to meet different artists, and interview different people. It's been fun being able to just interview people [and] talk about different topics and issues. And that kind of helped me segue into being on the Open Mic Talk Show from 9:00 to 11:00, Monday through Friday. I was one of the co-hosts and we would talk about local, state, national issues, global issues.
Three years ago, I was asked to join Fox 25, to be a part of Living Oklahoma. I did that for almost three years, so that was a lot of fun as well… people from the radio that heard me could see me, and people who saw me could hear me on the radio, so it was an even exchange in that way.
Why did you want to run for city council?
I knew our community needed representation. We needed to make sure we kept the progress that had begun, we wanted to keep it moving. I think, in my opinion, it needed to be from someone that actually grew up, lived, and understood what the community needs, because I've experienced where we had the grocery store, [and] I experienced when they left. I've experienced having to drive out of my ward or my area in order to get necessities, items that I know I need, or just thinking about my community in general, and hearing the concerns of my community when they would call [into the radio show] and ask about what's going on here, if we have insight about this or that...
Those are things I definitely looked at, and again, the main thing was representation. I knew we needed representation again from the community, and also to speak of what the community wants.
And you mentioned that you also felt like you had the connections to help make things happen too?
I did... [But] my mom tells me all the time, "You know so many people, but you don't use your resources." I do understand that. I guess just kind of being here has helped me to realize how many people I have met, just along my journey, because I met one gentleman, and I said, "You might not remember me, but I was your barista at Starbucks.” You know, just people that are developers in the community that I've met. It's just weird, but it's really fun for them to say, "Oh, that was you?"
I'm just an average young lady just trying to make a difference in my community and I don't have a business, I don't have the inheritance in order for me to have a business, and I'm just working to serve. I think that's another thing that the community, and I think the city, pays attention to.
That’s interesting because one thing we talk about at work is the fact that OKC is a big city, but it's also small enough that you can really make connections. It's interesting how many people you come across that might be involved in this or that... But I'm a Chamber guy, so I'm always promoting Oklahoma City.
Hey, but we all do, and I think we all should, and I think even when I travel outside of Oklahoma City, I can always find a person [that I’ve met]. It's like, "What are you doing here?" It's obviously just those connections like you said, it helps… When I was at Langston, I studied abroad in West Africa for six weeks… It was funny, because late last year I saw a young man… he was from the Gambia and he had met friends that had been over there from Langston as well, and he made those connections when he got here. It was just kind of neat how you have those international connections too when it comes to Oklahoma. When I went over there for my first trip, I saw some of the folks from the Gambia with OU shirts, Langston shirts, and different things like that, so it's just kind of like, "Oh, okay."
Tell me a little bit about that study abroad program.
We went for six weeks; it was about 2011 when I went. We studied whatever our major was, so we had some that were doing nursing, we had some that were business [majors], and three or four of us that were studying journalism, and so we would ride around with some of the journalists, the newspapers, and we had articles published in newspapers in the Gambia.
Man, that's fantastic.
It was so amazing. We were charged with being locals, so all day, we were out in the communities and in the city, learning about the community, and meeting the people. We would go to their houses for dinner, or just ride in their cars, or the taxi, the bus, whatever transportation to get there... we would go to the schools and talk to the young people at the schools and help them, and [ended up] sponsoring some… it was just an eye-opening experience. It gives you a lot of visual on community. It also gives you visual on families, it gives you visual on just what you can do better here for your community.
Let's talk a little bit about Ward 7. What's the one thing that you think Ward 7 needs most?
One of the main things obviously is a grocery store. We've been having that conversation since 1993, so that means four council members before me, and we're still having the conversation about adequate grocery stores in the community.
I [also] talked to some young people that want to be employed. Some teenagers, they want employment in the community. Obviously we have a gap with our education in making sure we have resources for our young people. Turning our renters into home owners. So there's a lot, but I think the economic development piece can help to bring some of that together. Not all, but obviously some of that… obviously quality of life is overall the most important thing that needs to happen for the ward.
That can be accomplished in different ways. Obviously, we're looking at the Wellness Center for our seniors right now, Wellness Center number three. Because we have a lot of seniors, heart disease, and high blood pressure, and also infant mortality, so there are definitely a lot of concerns.
And you mentioned economic development as being one of those linchpins that can help ameliorate some of those?
The right economic development pieces... Obviously Ward 7 is large, so for that piece, for the Northeast community, it has to be community focused, whatever that economic development is, in order for the community to feel that they are engaged, and have a part, and belong to it.
That's a lot easier said than done, because there hasn't been a lot of progress made with economic development. It's starting, and again, the reason I ran [was] to make sure we keep that momentum going, but I just want to make sure that we're continuing in the right path of that development at the same time. Even the Freedom Center is about to get a facelift and that could be a core of a commercial district that is in development. They're working on the early stages, the community, to create a commercial district from 23rd street, because we want it to be a destination piece. I think once we're able to show it as a destination piece, that helps to bring the interest in more economic development for the community, and obviously for the residents to have more pride in the community, and to obviously bring cultural awareness to what the Northeast community stands for and what it means.
But even when you're looking at that, right now... it's very diverse. The Northeast community is becoming a lot more diverse than I think people realize… Again, just engaging and understanding all those things, making sure the culture never leaves that area with that economic development. It can happen, so again, just [making sure it’s] the right kind of economic development.
“I'm just an average young lady just trying to make a difference in my community... I'm just working to serve. I think that's another thing that the community, and I think the city, pays attention to.”
What’s the best thing about your ward that you'd like people to know about?
The people. The people definitely make up all of the ward. When you go up to the North part of the ward, which some people call “Edmond,” obviously there are great things in that area. When you go all the way down south to the Southeast 44th and Bryant and to Southeast 44th and Shields, there are so many great things as far as culture in those areas.
When we're going East toward Luther and Jones, we have the Green Pastures area, you have Dunjee, those historical areas. All around Spencer--you can still count Spencer, because it's around it. But just so many great things, and restaurants, and I'm thinking of food… Since I grew up on the Northeast side of the community, some of my favorite places are Ice Event Center and Elmer's. But also the library. Ralph Ellison Library is a gem, and I wish more people would come and patronize it and read books and check out books or just volunteer their time to be a part of the Special Friends of Ralph Ellison Library.
And Page Woodson, that renovation of the area. It tells its own story when you walk in and I think those are definitely key pieces. When we go to Deep Deuce, it tells a story of history when you walk in, and understand some of those buildings and who walked through some of those buildings, such as Jimmy Rushing, Ralph Ellison, and Charlie Christian. And even Bricktown--the history of Bricktown and the revitalization, and the Boathouse District, and the Adventure District. Those are all part of Ward 7. Now, with the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum, all of that history, it’s all over here. We tell so many different stories in Ward 7, so I think-- I can't label it to one piece, although, because all of it's my favorite when you talk about it and think about it.
But I do have places I look forward to going when I leave church, or I leave a meeting, or wherever I tend to have a conversations, so it just depends, but I'll give you some places I like to eat, how about that?
Okay. Ice Event Center has wonderful catfish. Everybody likes to eat the fish there. Have you been to Florence's?
I haven't, but I've heard of it.
You need to go to Florence's. Florence's is a story in itself. Ms. Florence is still living. I don't know if she's in her 80's or 90's, but she works in the kitchen, but she's been operating that since the ‘50s.
I think it moved from maybe 4th street to 23rd, but just her history being there, still in that kitchen cooking is amazing.
It is an incredible story, so make sure you have the smothered chicken with mashed potatoes, and corn and green beans. She has a black cherry Kool-Aid that is to die for. Some days I go to Geronimo's. Geronimo's is on MLK. They have donuts that are good, but they have this foot-long hotdog. They fry the dog-
... and they put the bun on the grill, butter it up, and then they put chili and cheese on this dog, and you can get bacon and jalapenos on it. It is amazing.
With some fries.
You should be. You should be. Elmer's, if you go late in the evening, they have a whole catfish dish that you should try….the Han-D-Sak, which is not far from the Greater New Zion Baptist Church, right in front of the funeral home, Temple and Son. They have amazing fried pork chops.
And chicken wings, and you'll get great conversation when you go. MaMa E's also. I like their green-apple Kool-Aid and their greens, but their food's good too. Where else do I eat? I eat anywhere. Gabriella's, the meatballs and spaghetti, and just the experience there--you always get great service too. Carican Flavors is good too. That's Caribbean food. It's on about 26th and Martin Luther King. And Off The Hook has great gumbo!
That all sounds great. I’m definitely hungry now. So what do you look forward to most in serving on the city council?
Understanding more about my role as a city council person and how it pertains to my community, in relation to how to better serve the city, because I've already been approached with quite a few different things from different constituents about things that I probably never imagined that I would have to navigate through. Also, one of my favorite parts is knowing what development is coming, because I think when you're driving by, you're always wondering, "What is that going to be?" Now, when I'm meeting a developer, it's like, "Oh, okay." But then at the same time, "Well, does the community know about this?"
It's just kind of engaging how the community feels about possible change, growth, more opportunities that could take place in their neighborhood, or in the ward. Just learning more about the city and Ward 7's placement, and how the city moves forward too.
And kind of facilitating that conversation between what developers might want to do and your constituents?
Absolutely. Making sure the constituents know that transparency is one of the things that I hope I have brought thus far, and hope to continue to bring when it comes to what's going on, at least in the ward or as much of the city that they are concerned about, that I'm able to tell them what it is. That's what I think we need most in our communities and in this city is transparency. Not to say we don't have it, but I think for our communities, it's needed on a different level, and more engaging transparency, if that makes sense.
Yeah, that's a good way to put it. You kind of touched on this already, but are there any mentors or role models that have guided you in your career so far that you'd like to mention?
Yes. I've had Commissioner [Willa] Johnson, she's been a mentor. I've had even a lot of the women that were running alongside me [in the November 2018 elections], in different capacities for whatever role. I think everybody that's went before me has really been a role model in this process, from those that ran to those that are pillars in the community, because obviously you take something from everybody, in their journey, and apply it to mine, so I have so many. My pastors, Pastor Tucker and Pastor Sherrill, and my whole Greater New Zion Baptist Church family as well as Reverend Reed and the many pastors with the Baptist Ministers Association. And my mom, Roberta Swanegan, has been a great role model and mentor and has always been my foundation and biggest supporter, supporting my efforts and dreams… Senator Connie Johnson, Senator Angela Monson, Anastasia Pittman, and other women that I have looked up to and grew up seeing them represent the area that I've lived in, and also now that I help to serve.
What do you appreciate most about Oklahoma City in general?
The culture, the history, the ability to change, that we're evolving. I think that's something to look at... I know we're getting better at our diversity and inclusion, so those are things that you can appreciate that we are embracing. And understanding that there are still some challenges with that as well… I love the people, I love, again, the history of Oklahoma City, I love the culture of Oklahoma City. I love being able to, like we were talking about earlier, to be a couple of phone calls away from whomever I may need to get in touch with or meet.
Just that “little city” feel of this major, huge city, because we are a “little big city.” And I love that there's not a lot of traffic. I love that I can get where I need to get in a timely manner most of the time. But also just the friendliness of Oklahoma City in general--we are a friendly people... I just love the city. This is the city I was born and raised in and I've never had a desire to move from it, because of the potential.
And what are you most excited about when it comes to the future?
Just the potential of what's to come. I think again, we're on the brink of a lot of major changes, but gradually. I think we've had our, you might say “forefathers,” and now some of those have gone, and [they’ve] created this city for my generation, and now we're creating for our future generation. I think that's what I get excited about. Now, I'm helping to shape what's to come for people, for the young people that are coming up in my community, for the young people that live in the ward. We're helping, with their input, to make sure that this is a city they'll never want to leave, and that they'll bring more people to. Or, if they do decide to leave, that they'll come back and invest in where they came from, so those are things I'm excited about.
The VeloCity staff would like to thank Ms. Nice for taking the time to sit down with us and for the great conversation.