April Ryan on her book 'Black Women Will Save the World'
AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:
April Ryan started covering the White House for American Urban Radio Networks in 1997, and she's held that beat ever since. A Black female journalist in a White House press corps that has historically not had many of them. Her reporting has focused in particular on the challenges facing Black Americans. And in her new book, "Black Women Will Save The World," she reflects on that experience and those of other prominent Black women in power.
APRIL RYAN: This is my love song to America, my love song to Black women, and in particular my mother as well, you know, to show we made it.
RASCOE: April Ryan is now the Washington, D.C., bureau chief for TheGrio and a political analyst for CNN. Her new book is a mix of memoir, reporting and analysis, and she says is structured that way because everyone has a story.
RYAN: And I'd rather have the voice of the person who lived it tell the story, you know, from Stacey Abrams to Keisha Lance Bottoms to Fredrika Newton, the widow of Huey P. Newton, Valerie Jarrett, and so, so many others, LaTosha Brown, Melanie Campbell, I mean, just so many others who tell the story about this moment. And the problem, Ayesha, is that we are in a moment the people are not really marking. And when you write a book, it's a record of history for that moment. People need to know when I'm long and gone that Black women rose to the occasion, fought to be there and held the table down and started convening their own table.
RASCOE: What do you think this moment is?
RYAN: It's not an anomaly. It's not an aberration. It's not myth or conjecture. It's reality. You have the first Black woman on the U.S. Supreme Court, the first Black woman or woman of color who identifies as Black as vice president of the United States. You have so many people in high places, high spaces who are now Black women.
RASCOE: You and I shared this experience of being in the White House press corps. I remember being in the press corps. We were about to go into the Oval Office. And you can get jostled about. I was pregnant. We're standing outside. You were there. And I remember you telling me, get in front of me, and we're going to make sure you OK (laughter) because you get like - it's rough and tumble in these, like, scrums.
RYAN: It's very aggressive and - yeah.
RASCOE: It's very aggressive.
RYAN: That was the mothering instinct to me. I was like...
RASCOE: (Laughter) You were like, get in front of me. We're going to make sure you're OK. I mean, I felt like you were providing that sisterhood in that moment. Do you feel like that is the sisterhood you yearn for when you first got to the White House? I imagine there were not a lot of Black women at the White House when you got there.
RYAN: Here's the thing. You work for NPR, you know?
RYAN: Many of our counterparts were in mainstream media. I'm in what they used to call specialty media, whatever that is. And, you know, it's lonely being specialty.
RASCOE: And by specialty, you mean, like, you were at American Urban Radio Networks. Now you're at TheGrio.
RYAN: Yeah, I was there at that boutique network. But now I opened up the political arm of TheGrio. But still, you're considered specialty media. And, you know, there are some people in our space that believes you're second-class class. I'm second-class to none. And one of the reasons why I wrote this book - Black women in the press corps, minority women were vilified. Black women who were speaking out just on issues of communities were vilified during that moment. And I said, we are winners. We are the glue to communities. We're the glue to the church house, the schoolhouse, our house, the government house. And I said, we cannot let that narrative be.
RASCOE: This was during the Trump administration. And I'm not saying that was the only time you faced or Black women faced criticism, but certainly, it was intensified. And it's been talked about how you in particular were singled out, Yamiche Alcindor, Abby Phillip, others. I was in some of those press conferences, you know, where the president was telling you to sit down. I remember you were trying to ask about voting rights.
RYAN: And it was actually four years ago at this moment. And it was about voter suppression. And he was talking voter fraud. And I said something, sir - while he was calling on people - what about voter suppression? And he responded to my off - my question. And while he was talking off the side, I stood up. And then that's when all of that back and forth sit down and all that stuff went through.
RASCOE: How do you deal with the costs that comes along with some of the idea of Black women are strong; you can handle it; you can deal with it? But there's a cost that comes along with that. How do you manage that?
RYAN: Well, the cost for me - and I reveal in the book that I lost a lot of my hair from stress, the stress of being attacked, the stress of trying to keep my kids safe, myself safe and still do a job in the midst of a very hostile work environment. But how I cope and how many others - I have a standing appointment every Tuesday morning with a counselor to help me refocus and reshape what had happened and understand it wasn't about me. It was about pushing an agenda and using me as a scapegoat.
RASCOE: And this is because during your years covering the White House under President Trump, you faced harassment, death threats, all sorts of things from people angry at the questions that you asked to former President Trump. And former President Trump called you out on a number of occasions, leading to more threats. Is that correct?
RYAN: On a number of occasions. You got it right, yes.
RASCOE: The final section of your book is devoted to the future, the next generation of Black women and girls. Thinking back on your career, like, what advice do you have for young women who are hoping to follow your path?
RYAN: Be authentic and know that you're enough. Early on in my career, I used to hear people say, oh, fake it till you make it. I was never into that fake it till you make it stuff because at some point you're exposed if you're faking it, right? Know that you are enough. Your existence, your being and what you bring to the table is enough. And build from that.
RASCOE: April Ryan is the author of "Black Women Will Save the World" and White House correspondent for TheGrio.
Thank you so much.
RYAN: Thank you, Ayesha.
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