It’s Women’s History Month and what better way to celebrate than to spotlight White House Correspondent April D. Ryan. Ryan is a veteran journalist who has worked at the White House for 24 years, while also serving as a major voice for the Black community.
ESSENCE spoke with Ryan about her early days in the news industry, how she overcame working in the White House under a racist, sexist president, and her new role with theGrio.
When did you realize you wanted to be a journalist?
RYAN: I realized when I was at Morgan [State University]. I started out doing radio, being a DJ between classes on Friday and overnights on Sunday. I was a DJ at WEAA FM and WEBB AM [previously owned by singer James Brown]. I always had a passion for knowing what was going on, and that stemmed from my home in Baltimore from my late parents. They always had the radio on first thing in the morning. You get up you hear the sounds of the news, traffic and temperature. In the evenings we would sit and watch Walter Cronkite. That’s the way it was. News was always in me, but I didn’t realize how much it was until I got tired of spinning the records and I wanted to do more. I was always the one who wanted to get the people talking, to have it on the record, to make it credible, so that you could believe this is something you need for your daily life. I think being a DJ is the best thing in the world. I couldn’t do it, but news, give me a pen, a pad, a microphone or a camera and I’m there. I can work it out in a minute.
As someone who attended Morgan State University, how do you respond to people who argue HBCUs are archaic and need to be eliminated?
RYAN: I would not be April Ryan if it weren’t for an HBCU. I attended predominately white catholic schools for the vast majority of my education and then I attended Morgan. This is my quote: ‘HBCUs love you to success.’ It’s like a family. There’s an intimacy there and we understand, we want you to survive and thrive. We are building you up because we’ve been down for so long. HBCUs are not archaic. When some institutions won’t accept us now, family accepts us. There is still a non-even playing field for admissions for us. The same reasons we needed them [HBCUs] now are the same reasons we needed them yesterday. A lot of these schools would not take us in.
The nation watched the fiery exchanges that took place between you and Trump during his presidency. You’re the epitome of a strong Black woman, but how did it feel to be challenged by a racist, sexist president who was never fit to lead this country?
RYAN: It wasn’t necessarily about me. When you’re a mother, you don’t necessarily think about yourself, you think about your children. I wanted to make sure my children were okay. My children know I’m a fighter and they know I stand up when something is said or something is wrong. But my concern was for them most of all. One, that they were safe. Two, that it didn’t hurt their mother as much as other people felt hurt for me. When many of those fiery exchanges were happening, my oldest daughter was in class in Baltimore in current news watching the ticker go by, Donald Trump says this to April Ryan. She would text me, ‘mom are you okay?’ I said, ‘I’m great.’ And that’s the hurtful piece, when you’re doing your job and your family and friends get it before you can say what happened.
Let’s discuss your new role with theGrio. What are you doing and why theGrio?
RYAN: I am a White House correspondent Washington bureau chief with theGrio. I’m learning things, like the Tik Toking and all that stuff. I said I need to go digital, but I wanted to stay at the White House and build something great for Black America. TheGrio is offering me the opportunity to help lead that side of it. It’s amazing what the team has. I love the energy there, young people who aren’t new to this, but true to this. They believe in giving information to Black America.
What advice would you give to Black women and girls who are looking to enter the media industry, but may feel discouraged?
RYAN: Believe in yourself. There’s something called a dream deferred. It could be a dream that’s deferred or you can believe in yourself and still work towards your dream. Never walk away from your dream, even if it is part time or a hobby. I’ve been in this business since 1985. For me to still be here in 2021, you don’t see a lot of that. I’ve been at the White House for 24 years. You don’t see that. I’m saying all that to say, this business has changed so much. Be open. You need to be able to get on Zoom calls and hold conversations that bring people in. You need to be able to write your a** off. You need to be able to speak the queen’s English. You need to be able to handle the camera at a moment’s notice. Practice your craft.