This is the second interview in the Black History Month series Perspectives on Black Politics in the Age of Obama. It has been selectively edited for print, but the full audio will be available at wbai.org. It is being published as a joint HuffPost Politics and Black Voices project.
Clyde Williams has had a 20-year career in public service. He served in the Clinton White House as Deputy Director of Presidential Scheduling, at USDA as Deputy Chief of Staff and he worked as Domestic Policy Advisor to President William Jefferson Clinton, coordinating his post-presidential activities in Harlem.
Rakim Brooks (RB): The Department of Agriculture (USDA) isn't a department that we, in communities of color, [typically] think of as being very important. We think of the Department of Labor and the Department of Education, but in the wake of the great recession, the food stamp program [has been a vital lifeline for communities of color and all struggling families]. I'm curious if you, as an African American, [appreciated] those links before you worked at USDA?
Clyde Williams (CW): I had some sense prior to [becoming Deputy chief of staff at USDA], but it became much more pronounced. [USDA] was the department that had oversight responsibility for WIC (Women, Infants, and Children), food stamps, [and the] school lunch program. When you have those kinds of programs [that] impact people's lives [so substantially], you get a true sense of the profound importance of government.
The school lunch program [is] for some kids the only real meal they get per day. The ability to have a WIC program [that allows women to meet] the actual nutritional [needs of] their children, or the food stamps program, is a big deal because there are certain times in people's lives when they need assistance. And there's nothing wrong with [that]. That's the thing that I think makes our country unique and great. We provide these bridges for people when they don't have the ability to help themselves.
[Working at USDA] actually one of the greatest experiences that I've had working in government.