theGrio’s April Ryan celebrates 25 years as a White House correspondent

Ryan has covered five sitting U.S. presidents throughout her storied career from Baltimore to the White House

April Ryan
April Ryan (Photo: Courtesy of April Ryan)

Veteran journalist April Ryan is celebrating 25 years as a White House correspondent. Ryan, who currently serves as theGrio‘s White House correspondent and D.C. bureau chief, has covered five U.S. presidential administrations and a host of American historical events.

While Ryan is not the longest-serving Black reporter to cover the White House — that distinction belongs to Wendell Goler, who retired as senior White House and foreign affairs correspondent at Fox News after 28 years — she is the longest-serving Black female White House correspondent and longest-serving African American reporter covering Black news.

April Ryan, who is also a CNN political analyst and author, tells theGrio it’s “humbling” to reach this milestone in her career, particularly as a Black woman born and raised in Baltimore.

April Ryan sitting in the White House Press Briefing Room. (Photo: Courtesy of April Ryan)

“I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, where some would say the word failure is built into our very existence,” she said. But as fate would have it, the Morgan State University graduate would go on to become one of the most recognizable and accomplished Black journalists covering Black issues at the White House.

“I’ve questioned five American presidents [and] they’ve called me by name,” said Ryan.

Reflecting on her storied career as a Black White House correspondent, Ryan said she stands on the shoulders of Black history makers like Henry McAlpin, the first African American reporter to attend a U.S. presidential news conference; Alice Dunnigan, the first African American female reporter to receive White House credentials; and Ethel Payne, who was considered the “First Lady of the Black Press.”

“[They] had to really fight to ask a question of a president, to ask a question of a press secretary, to be part of the group pressing for information before the Civil Rights Act, before the Voting Rights Act and before the Fair Housing Act,” said Ryan. “You have these people who were challenged simply because of their race and their gender. Nothing that I’ve been through compares to that.”

Ryan began her career as a White House correspondent at American Urban Radio Network (AURN) on Jan. 13, 1997, covering the administration of President Bill Clinton

Jerry Lopes, who served as AURN’s president of program operations and affiliations, was the one who hired Ryan to cover the White House. He said April Ryan was one of his “best” hires.

“Her consistency and longevity speak volumes. I am not surprised at her success,” Lopes tells theGrio. “She was always a hard worker and go-getter.”

April Ryan interviews then President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush. (Photo: White House)

Lopes first met Ryan when she worked as a news reporter and director for WXYV (V-103) radio station in Baltimore, and served as a reporter on the ground for AURN.

“When major national news stories broke she provided reports for the network. She really did a bang up job for us –  so when the opportunity presented itself, we hired her as our White House correspondent.”

Lopes would go on to witness Ryan’s colorful career while covering the White House, from traveling with Presidents Clinton and Barack Obama to Africa and touring New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina with President George W. Bush aboard Air Force One to “shedding tears with First Lady Laura Bush after a powerful African American quilt exhibit.”

But there were also some lighter moments. 

“I will never forget picking up the Sunday Washington Post and there in the style section seeing  a picture of April teaching Vice President Al Gore how to do the electric slide aboard Air Force Two on their way back from a trip to Africa,” Lopes recalls to theGrio.

“April was always comfortable in her own skin [and] keeping it real. I think newsmakers loved that about her and, as a result, bonded and confided in her – that’s part of what I call the April magic.”

April Ryan used her impressive reporting chops and charisma to build long lasting relationships in Washington. But her career was not without its fair share of challenges. During her time covering the Trump administration, Ryan had viral exchanges with former president Donald Trump and White House staff. Things reached an inflection point when Trump threatened to revoke her White House hard pass. Ryan would later receive bomb and death threats as a result.

April Ryan at press conference with then President Donald Trump. (Photo: White House)

While Ryan said she doesn’t like to relive those years, she emphasizes, “I’m still here.”

“I stand on the pillars of the Founding Fathers, who I’m sure were slave owners. They didn’t expect April Ryan to be here [but] I’m here reporting,” she adds.

But there was one former president, Ryan said, that brought her to tears when he left office: America’s first Black president, Barack Obama.

“It means a lot because I was born nine months before the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And before that .. you had the assassination of John F. Kennedy and also you had the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. The mindset at that time, particularly among Black people, [was] we could never have a Black president because anyone who wanted to change the status quo … would be assassinated,” recalled Ryan. “There was a major concern among Black Americans that if he is elected, he could be assassinated … he wasn’t.”

She adds, “I didn’t cry like a lot of people when he was elected. I was shocked [but] I didn’t cry. I did cry when he left office because I watched something that we never thought would happen.”

April Ryan and other White House Correspondents Association members with then President Barack Obama. (Photo: White House)

Lopes remembered Ryan being critical of Obama administration officials when uninvited guests Michaele Salahi, Tareq Salahi and Carlos Allen infamously crashed a U.S. state dinner to meet President Obama. 

“April was critical of those handling the event including the secret service [and] the White House social secretary for putting the lives of the President and First Lady at risk,” said Lopes. 

He recalled being phoned by former Obama Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on the matter – one of many calls he often fielded from the White House over the years regarding Ryan’s reporting.

“April asks tough questions of both Democratic and Republican administrations,” said Lopes.

“When both Democratic and Republican administrations are calling  … it tells me April is doing her job.”

As the man who can take credit for giving April Ryan her first big shot in political reporting, Lopes said he knows Ryan has many more years to go.

“The April Ryan White House book continues to be written,” he said. “I have no doubt theGrio is in for an interesting, wonderful and rewarding ride.”

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