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Overcoming Hardship with Hope

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES
Byron Pitts grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. His childhood was filled with overwhelming obstacles. He had a debilitating stutter, a home life that was filled with discord due to his father’s infidelity, and an embarrassing secret: he couldn’t read. Byron was twelve years old when his parents separated. His mom, Clarice, worked two jobs to make ends meet. She believed that life’s difficulties could be wrestled to the ground with prayer, faith, humility, hard work, and on occasion harsh words. When Byron began coming home with bad grades in school, Clarice thought a tough-love approach would be the remedy to his academic struggles. When punishment did not make a difference, she decided to get Byron tested. He can still recall the words of the therapist, “I’m sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Pitts, Byron is functionally illiterate.” His parents did not realize he could not read. He still remembers the words of his mother as they left the doctor’s office, “Keep your head up, son. When we get home, we’ll pray about it and work our way through it.”  Byron had managed to fake his way through school until the third grade. As a quiet and polite boy, most teachers left Byron alone. When he transferred to a Catholic school, his learning difficulties were realized. Byron was removed from a regular classroom and placed in all remedial classes that met in the basement. At home, Byron used a reading machine, a small microfiche machine and a box of slides which his mom purchased to help him in his fight to overcome illiteracy. Every day after school and after finishing his homework, Byron would spend an hour with his reading machine. By the end of sixth grade, Byron recalls reading his mom a note that was sent home from school, “Mrs. Pitts, Byron is doing better in school. He is showing real pro…pro…progress.” As he finished reading the note, both he and his mother were crying tears of joy. Byron says it was one of the greatest highlights of his life.

NEVER SAY I’LL TRY, SAY I WILL
By the time Byron reached high school he was still struggling with reading. His freshman year he was ranked 310 out of 330 students. With the coaching of Father Bartholomew, Byron and he mapped out an aggressive study schedule that would improve his grades so he could get into college. It worked; Byron was accepted into Ohio Wesleyan University. “My freshman year at college was the scariest year of my life,” remembers Byron. With the help of a friend, Byron increased his vocabulary and improved his study routine. It was during this time that Byron began considering his career – journalism. Even with his limited vocabulary, Byron enjoyed words and expressing himself.

At the end of Byron’s freshman year in college, he was on academic probation. His English teacher even encouraged him to leave school. Byron decided to take his advice and quit college. On his way to withdraw from school, he met a woman who listened to his story and made a commitment to help Byron. The woman turned out to be a “newbie” English teacher at OWU named Dr. Lewes. She helped shape and change Byron’s life with the written word. With her individualized tutoring and teaching philosophy, she encouraged Byron to push himself beyond his own expectations. During college, Byron worked on his stuttering for over a year to improve his verbal communication.          

A DREAM REALIZED
“My faith teaches me that there are no obstacles, that all stumbling blocks are merely stepping stones and part of God’s plan. It was my responsibility to remain faithful and see what God had in store on the other side of my difficulties,” says Byron. After fifteen years in local television, Byron landed a job as correspondent for CBS News in 1998, and went on to become an Emmy Award –winning journalist and a contributing correspondent for 60 Minutes. Byron was named a contributor to 60 Minutes and chief national correspondent for The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric in 2008. He had been a national correspondent since 2006. Byron was one of CBS News' lead reporters during the Sept. 11 attacks and won a national Emmy award for his coverage. Other major stories covered by Byron include: Hurricane Katrina, the war in Afghanistan, the military buildup in Kuwait, the Elian Gonzalez story, and the Florida Presidential recount.

Outwardly, Byron was successful, but on the inside, he felt incomplete. “I was burdened by my unforgiving heart,” says Byron. For nearly twenty years, there was nearly silence between Byron and his father. After his parents divorced, Byron’s relationship with his father was almost nonexistent. As he grew older, he admits he wanted no part of his father due to his lack of involvement in his life growing up. At the age of forty five, Byron contacted his dad to have a face-to-face discussion with him about his lack of involvement in his life. During their conversation, Byron chose to let go of his anger towards his dad and chose to see God’s goodness in him.  Today the anger that he once felt for his dad no longer drives his personal or professional ambitions. Byron and his dad talk from time to time. “All the struggles with literacy and speech, and even the difficulties in my relationship with my Dad were placed in my path to teach me, to prepare me for my purpose: to encourage someone else to overcome their obstacles.”

OVERWHELMING ODDS
As Byron shared his story around the world, he met many young people who were growing up with difficult circumstances.  He says many kids are being sexually assaulted, bullied and have overwhelming odds to overcome.  Some of those stories he put together in his book, Be the One.  “We always take time to point out when people stumble,” says Byron.  “These stories look at when people fall, get back up and what got them back up.”  Once while he was speaking at school assembly, a young girl named Tania approached him.  She asked, “Mr. Pitts, when you were my age, where did you go, where did you hide, when the world hurt too much?”  “It broke my heart and I wanted the world to know her story,” he says.  “I wanted others who might see some of Tania in their own stories to know they are not alone and to know that heroes come in all sizes and ages.”

  1. Tania: overcame parental abandonment and sexual abuse in foster care
  2. Mason: conquered severe obestity and bullying related to his weight;
  3. Pappy: walked over 700 miles from Zaire to South Africa to escape war and becoming a child soldier;    
  4. Michaela: raised her other siblings while dealing with her parents’ severe substance abuse and domestic violence;
  5. Ryan: survived living with several mentally ill parents and suicidal;
  6. Tyton: overcame grief after his brother was killed by a drink driver and a diabetes diagnosis

Byron stays in contact with these young people and how they are doing in their lives today.  “Many people have challenges they have to manage,” says Byron  “I hope others struggling will see this book as a place they can turn to.”

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Guest Info

Guests
Credits

Chief National Correspondent, ABC News

Co-anchor, Nightline

Author of several books, his latest: Be the One, Simon & Schuster, 2017

Emmy award for his coverage of the Chicago train wreck in 1999 and 9/11 attacks

Has covered national news stories for all broadcasts and platforms including Good Morning America, 20/20, etc.

Recipient NABJ Journalist of the Year

Graduate, Ohio Wesleyan University, B.A. Journalism/Speech Communication

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