In celebration of Alice Dunnigan, a journalist, civil rights activist, author and the first Black female White House correspondent to receive press credentials, a Howard University class took a trip to the White House on Wednesday, April 13.
Dunnigan’s career as a reporter started in the 1940s, a time of immense racial hardships towards the Black community, and yet, she continued to achieve her goals as a journalist. Dunnigan’s career established a roadmap for future journalists who sought to follow in her footsteps.
Dr. Hazel Trice Edney’s Multicultural Media History class was invited by renowned reporter, author and White House correspondent for The Grio, April Ryan.
Ryan reports on issues concerning the Black community and has made consistent appearances on multiple news publications and outlets like CNN.
During her interview session with the class, Ryan opened up about what it’s like to hold her job as a correspondent.
“You can have the first Black vice president or the first Black president of the United States,” Ryan said. “But it doesn’t change the fact that Washington, D.C. is still a white male-dominated town.”
Ryan, who has found immense success in journalism, answered student questions about Dunnigan’s influence on her accomplishments and her unique perspective as a Black White House correspondent.
As the session progressed, Howard University graduate and newly appointed Press Secretary to Vice President Kamala Harris, Kirsten Allen, spoke to the class.
“[Howard] changed the trajectory of my life in ways that I’ll never be able to quantify,” Allen said while discussing her experience attending Howard University. “Being with your fellow students will be an experience that you will always miss when it’s gone. So, I would encourage you to cherish those memories and to learn.”
Allen, who was appointed as Harris’ Press Secretary on March 23, further reiterated Ryan’s perspective as a Black woman working in a white-dominated field while also encouraging students to take advantage of the opportunities that are given to them.
As Allen spoke just a few feet from Ryan, excitement washed over the faces of the Howard University students in that room, such as sophomore journalism major, psychology minor Jada Ingleton from Florida.
“It felt amazing to be in the presence of successful, powerful Black people,” Ingleton said. “And to be engaged with their political and personal views or thoughts.”
This amazement from the student body was further stoked when White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre made a surprise visit, who, on May 5, was named the first Black and LGBTQ+ White House Press Secretary following Jen Psaki.
Pierre, who is often in direct contact with journalists every day, took the class to the White House Press Briefing Room to answer student questions.
“The history of Haiti is an impressive one,” Jean-Pierre said when discussing her Haitian heritage and experience visiting Haiti while she was in graduate school. “We should know all of its history. I think it’s important that we, as Black people, understand that.”
After answering a few questions, Jean-Pierre left the briefing room and Ryan offered some more of her time.
She opened up about motherhood, what she does to destress and, most importantly, what she would say to Dunnigan if she were still alive today.
“I would say to Alice Dunnigan, thank you,” Ryan said. “And I would ask her, how did you sustain?”
Public figures such as April Ryan often regard their professional success to figures like Alice Dunnigan. Ryan has, in many ways, followed in Dunnigan’s footsteps as a Black White House correspondent. Although the times are different, the struggles Ryan faces are largely similar to Dunnigan’s struggles.
Being a Black woman in America comes with the struggles of not just race, but of gender as well. Being able to witness Black women in positions of power speak to the next generation of leaders was inspiring for students seeking to make a change too.
“I didn’t think the trip was going to make me feel so inspired,” sophomore broadcast journalism major, theater minor Jasmine Livingston from New Jersey said. “To see all the other strong Black women who worked there, it made me think, if this was something I wanted to do I could do it.”
Edney’s class visit to the White House was more than just a demonstration of Black excellence, it was a demonstration of Howard University’s excellence and the impact students can have on this country’s future.
“Meeting [Jean-Pierre] and speaking to April Ryan was both inspiring and empowering,” Ingleton said. “I was proud to be a Howard University student at that moment because it was a moment that reminded me of the opportunities and positions this school has to offer.”
Copy edited by N’dia Webb