For the last 25 years she has covered five U.S. presidential administrations, held political figures accountable and acted as a liaison between the Executive Mansion and the Black community. Ryan is also a political analyst for CNN.
For Black History Month, REVOLT caught up with the change-maker to discuss her journey, what it was like to work alongside the first Black president, Barack Obama, and her contentious relationship with Former President Donald Trump. Check out our conversation below.
How does it feel to know you’re a legend who’s earned the title as the longest-serving Black female White House correspondent?
It makes you pause and say, ‘Wait a minute.’ In order to keep doing it, you just got to keep doing it and you don’t look at what’s around. That’s how I got to 25 years. I love my job. I love informing people. And I realize it’s not about me — it’s about the greater good. It’s about the broader community. It’s about people understanding what’s happening in the highest office in the land and how it impacts them — and particularly when it comes to us. When I first started, I was viewed as militant because I asked questions about an underserved community and I’m like, ‘This is nuts.’ Times have changed now.
How did you realize journalism was the right path for you?
I think my love for journalism stands with my parents because they were very ahead of the times. If ‘news junkies’ was a term back in the 60s, 70s and 80s, that’s what they would have been called. They listened to the news morning, noon and night. We watched Walter Cronkite. That’s the way it was.
How did you get your start?
I started at Morgan State University. I always wanted to be in a field that I enjoyed. I shadowed someone on WEAA 88.9 FM and started out as a DJ, but I didn’t necessarily feel that I was contributing — I just didn’t feel like I had that magic. My magic came with finding out what was happening, and why? When was it happening? Tell me all the components, and I would relate. I used to want to be a TV anchor. I used to want to be a TV reporter, but I’m a political analyst and I’m on TV in the White House briefing. God gave me my desire, but in a different way. I wouldn’t change it for the world.
When did you realize you made it?
[I haven’t] — I am April from Baltimore who’s raising two daughters, who’s just trying to live life, who happens to work at the most magnificent historic museum that is the White House. A workable museum that someone lives in, who happens to be the leader of the free world, who happens to call me by name.
You’re regarded as an icon who’s broken many barriers for the Black community. What keeps you humble?
Humility is what you always have to have. The same people you see going up are the same people you see going down. I have aunts. They will yank me if I start feeling myself. They’re like, ‘Excuse me, let me tell you something.’ I’m someone who never believes my press releases because you know what? There’s this moment today, but tomorrow is not promised. And, if I didn’t have the White House ever again, this has been the most magnificent ride to witness change — to see how asking a question can make a difference for people, get them more information or help them fortify their households.
Let’s switch gears and talk about Former Commander-in-Chief Donald Trump. How did it feel to be challenged by the president of the United States of America on live television?
It wasn’t just the president. It was two press secretaries, maybe three. It was people out here in the street. So, I had no right to ask a question of the president simply because I was Black or because I asked questions about an underserved community. It wasn’t just one person — it was the leader of the free world. I was one person working in a boutique organization and had to find a way to survive in the middle of it, keep my sanity, work, raise children and keep them happy.
How would you describe the relationship between the press and the sitting president?
Overall, for any president, there is a friendly adversarial relationship, and the press always has some kind of issue. If we write a story that [a president doesn’t] necessarily like, there’s always retaliation. Donald Trump was the polar opposite of what the other presidents said, particularly Barack Obama.
What was it like to work with Former President Barack Obama?
Barack Obama was smooth. He was smooth in his approach towards things. He was studied, he was fair. And one thing I will tell you… when he came into office, I didn’t cry, but I cried when they left and I’m going to tell you why. I was born nine months before the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Black folks were like, ‘Oh God, we will never see this kind of moment again.’ And then don’t think about having a Black president! [Then President Obama was elected] and everybody inside the White House, and outside, were holding their breath… not speaking it, holding their breath. And he made it through. For eight years, nothing happened to him or the children. [While Obama was in the White House] I said, ‘Remember him. Remember this moment.’ His eyes, his shirt, just how he walked. I wanted to remember him because he was me in the White House.
Tell me about your book, “Black Women Will Save the World,” which is being released this fall!
I think this book is going to tell a story and it’s coming out just before midterms in October. I’m so excited about it. I’m proud of it. I’m thankful for all the people, the storytelling and conversations. So many people can relate. It’s for everyone. It’s for allies. It’s for Black people. It’s for Black women. It’s for Black men. It’s for everyone of all races, all genders, all walks of life to understand what Black women have contributed and continue to contribute to save this Democracy.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
Be true to the story. Give all sides. Tell the facts. Leave your opinion out because, along the way, someone will say what you feel anyway… know that you can be replaced. Don’t be so haughty to think that you’re so great. It happens to the best of us. If it happens, dust yourself off and keep moving on. Don’t stop. What did Diddy say? ‘Can’t stop. Won’t stop.’