By SARAH BOND
“It’s been a year” said White House correspondent, April Ryan in her speech on Wednesday, January 24 in Chandler Ballroom. Ryan spoke as the 2018 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Keynote Speaker. This event, hosted by the James Farmer Multicultural Center, began the numerous Black History Month events this February.
April Ryan has served as a White House correspondent representing the American Urban Radio Networks since the Clinton era, is currently a CNN political analyst and has often served as one of the only black female reporters in the White House Correspondents room. Ryan is also the author of “The Presidency in Black and White and At Mama’s Knee” which both tackle race in America and Ryan’s experiences at the White House under four US Presidents. Ryan is also well known for her journalism on black and urban issues which has received much attention and brought Ryan to fame. In the recent year, Ryan’s feuds with Sean Spicer, Sarah Sanders, and President Donald Trump has propelled her into the media and made her a prominent public figure.
Despite a low turnout from students, the room was filled with local community members and faculty. As the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s death approaches, she channeled his life and his messages of hope, peace and social justice during difficult times in her address to the local community.
During her speech, Ryan also discussed her personal experiences in the White House. Ryan acknowledged the struggles she has had being one of only three African-Americans to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents Association.
“You can’t miss me from the 3rd row and I can’t be ignored,” Ryan said referring to her seat in the briefing room of the White House. Ryan’s speech garnered affirmations and “amens” from the crowd.
Returning to her speech about the life of Dr. King, Ryan shared how she recalled meeting Dr. King’s mother, which was a moment that has prompted her to always ask, “what would Dr. King do?” in moments of strife. So “If you don’t have a seat at the table bring a chair,” Ryan said, prompting the crowd to take action and create inclusive spaces for all marginalized identities. “What will you do?” Ryan said, ending her speech, challenging the crowd and to take action and honor Dr. King’s legacy.
During a questions and answers session, one question came from a man who shared with the crowd that he was 90 years old and had walked with Martin Luther King. He thanked Ryan for all of the work she has done. He then asked Ryan about when she recently asked President Donald Trump, “are you a Racist?” on Martin Luther King Day after his comments on “s***hole countries.” She recalled that day as being very emotional and stated she was the first person to ever ask that of a sitting President.
The only student to ask a question was junior English major Milli Mehari who asked about student activism and fighting institutional white supremacy on the UMW campus. Ryan responded that she admired the confidence of Mehari and it is up to her to challenge the institution and ensure that meaningful conversations are being had.
At the reception, many stayed after to engage with Ryan by sharing experiences, taking pictures,signing autographs and books. During the reception afterward, Junior and International Relations major at UMW, Lauren Olivia James said the speech, “was very enlightening and powerful. She spoke what many feel and see is going on in today’s society.”
Ryan remains confident in the midst of threats and intimidation in her position as a reporter in the White House. Ryan’s speech of hope, peace and social justice honored the life of Dr. Martin Luther King and the work that still needs to be done.