By Derrell Reid
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
White House correspondent April Ryan visited Towson University last week to urge young people to pursue their dreams and “aspire to inspire.”
Speaking to an audience of about 75 people in the University Union, Ryan recounted her start as a kid from Baltimore who grew up to become the only African American woman currently covering urban issues at the White House.
She said she has interviewed three presidents during her career as a journalist, and she said she hopes to interview President Trump while he is in office.
“I’m a kid from Baltimore, who grew up in almost every social economic area,” Ryan said. “[I’m the] kid from Baltimore [who] never expected to be in the White House covering four presidents. So, if I can do it, you can do it.”
Ryan, a correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks and an analyst for CNN, made news herself last March after White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told her to stop shaking her head during a press briefing.
During her speech, Ryan took time to joke about that encounter with Spicer.
“I’m watching you all look and sit I’m thinking about how Sean Spicer sees me and all the rest of us sitting and looking so don’t shake your head, OK,” Ryan joked with crowd. “But it’s OK. Shake your head to let me know I’m alright. So, shake your head.”
Her name also appeared in headlines when Trump asked if she – as an African American reporter – could help him set up a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus.
Ryan recounted how she decided to take a job with CNN recently.
“CNN had been looking at me for awhile and they didn’t realize I was interested in going anywhere and this is honest,” said Ryan. “The day Sean Spicer did that mess, I just said, ‘OK, what are we going to do?’ And my agent and I said, ‘OK, let’s do it,’ and we had a very fast contract negotiation that was done in like three days.”
A journalist for 30 years, Ryan said the two things she loves the most are her two daughters and Baltimore.
Ryan said the death of Baltimore resident Freddie Grey impacted her and the city of Baltimore. Ryan said she watched the news from her office in the White House the day of the funeral as the tension between residents and the police grew out of control.
“I was at the White House the day of Freddie Grey’s funeral,” Ryan said. “There’s certain things that stick out in your mind that you’ll always remember. That day I was in the White House doing my work in my office. I sat in tears 150 feet from the Oval Office.”
Ryan said she remembers getting calls from family and friends as the world watched the riots that took place in Baltimore wondering if she was safe.
“My children were 11.5 miles away. They were shutting down schools,” Ryan said. “I get in my car and I’m listening on the radio and it felt like the world was coming to an end. I just wanted to get my children and make sure they were safe.”
The impact that Freddie Grey’s death had on the community ultimately gave Ryan the strength and need to write her latest book, At Mama’s Knee: Mothers and Race in Black and White.
“I wanted to find out what other mothers said what other people did for their children and I talked to President Obama,” Ryan said.
Ryan’s other book is The Presidency in Black and White: My up close View of Three Presidents and Race in America. It won an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work – Debut Author.
Over the past 18 years, Ryan has conducted one-on-one interviews with former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush, President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, former South African President Thabo Mbeki, former Sen. John Kerry and others.
“You can not sit or work next to ultimate power and then not write about it, so I wrote about it,” Ryan said. “I see and hear things that a lot of people don’t see and I start thinking and its something to this I talked to Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Hussein Obama, and hopefully I get a chance to sit down and talk to Donald J. Trump.”
Ryan ended her speech by directing her final message to the front row of girls sitting in attendance ranging from the ages 10 to 13.
“With that I want to say to you especially to you ladies in the front, aspire to inspire,” Ryan said.