Veteran White House Correspondent April Ryan didn’t mince words with New Haven, or the Greater New Haven branch of the NAACP. She wanted to know if they are ready.
Ready to be “We the people,” ready to stand up for ” a more perfect union.”
Ryan, who has covered four presidents for the American Urban Radio Network, popped that question as the keynote speaker at the Greater New Haven Branch of the NAACP’s annual Freedom Fund dinner Thursday night at the Omni Hotel.
This year’s dinner recognized Lia Simone Davila, owner of the Hamden Academy of Dance & Music; Capt. Patricia Helliger of the New Haven Police Department; Michael A. Carter, chief administrative officer; William C. Graustein of the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund; and Janette J. Parker, longtime community activist and former state representative for the 95th District.
Ryan, who has become an icon for mixing it up with the Trump Administration, wanted to know who we are—“we” being the more than 100 well-dressed people gathered for the annual fundraiser—in 2018.
“Are we complacent now that we’re here eating this nice chicken?” she asked. “I’ma say this: Yale’s been in the news lately. The president of the university tonight is coming out and making a statement. It’s not the university, it’s the mindset of the young lady who called the police on this black girl.”
Ryan was referring to an incident that has gone viral of a white graduate student at Yale University who called the police on a black fellow graduate student she found sleeping in a common area of their mutual dorm. Police ended up interrogating the black student and questioning her student status for 15 minutes.
“Why are we at a time in 2018 where our young black kids are going to these Ivy League campuses and have to wear paraphernalia from the school to show they belong?” she asked. “That’s just ridiculous.”
She said people can pass the stories and share their outrage on social media. They can tweet about it. But this happened at Yale University, in the heart of New Haven.
“You’re here in New Haven,” she said to a crowd that included Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins. “What are you going to do about it?”
A native of Baltimore, Ryan said plainly, with New Haven Police Chief Anthony Campbell sitting to her right, that Freddie Gray, who died in her home city in police custody there, should have never been in custody.
“We support the police—I was almost engaged to a couple of ‘em,” she said again drawing a chuckle. “We have police in our home. We have police who are friends. We support the police but we want to weed out bad policing in our community.
“I want to support a more perfect union,” she added. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Ryan pointed to the activism of young people in the Black Lives Matter movement, and more recently, the students from Parkland, Fla. as a guide on how to get the job done.
“As a reporter in this White House, you’ve got to make sure you know your history because they will make you think something ain’t right,” she said, drawing laughs from the crowd. “We’re on the battlefield and you have to have a sense of history if you’re going to drag that seat to the table.”
Ryan pointed out that the NAACP has been fighting and marching for a very long time and been apart of providing a blueprint for social justice that has been picked up by the LGBTQ community, by the women’s rights community and by immigrants.
“It’s the most successful blueprint ever in this nation. What did we do with it?” she asked. “It’s great to sit here and commune and eat this chicken—it’s good, too. But what’s next? What’s next?”
She concluded that too many people are still in too much shock post-Trump’s election to move on to what’s next. And it’s time to get on with the business of making “a more perfect union.”
“It’s not about a president, a mayor, or a city council,” she said. “It’s about we the people. Some of you are still in the fetal position. I’m serious.”
She said it’s time to do what the first black woman to run for president, Shirley Chisholm, admonished people to do if they’re not given a seat at the table: bring a folding chair.
“The question is: Are you ready to become we the people?” she asked. “Are you ready to stand up and say, ‘I want a more perfect union?’
Catch more of Ryan’s address in the Facebook Live video below.