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Overcoming Hardship with Hope

Emmy-winning reporter Byron Pitts discusses his faith, overcoming a difficult childhood, and helping young people overcome overwhelming odds. Read Transcript

When Byron Pitts was a child, he came home with bad grades.

Well, after a while, his parents had him tested, which

revealed that he couldn't read.

Fast forward many, many years.

And the boy who nearly flunked out of school

is now one of the biggest journalists in TV news.

NARRATOR: Byron Pitts is an Emmy award winning journalist.

Over the course of his 30 year career,

he's covered some of the biggest news stories of our time.

Perhaps, he will--

NARRATOR: But what you may not know

is Byron struggled with stuttering

and couldn't read until third grade.

Throughout his travels, Byron met

others who faced tough circumstances in life.

He shares some of their remarkable stories in his book,

"Be The One."

Byron Pitts is here with us now.

And we welcome you to the "700 Club."

How nice to have you here.

Honored to be with you.

Thank you so much.

Talk a little bit, if you will, about the struggle

that you had with reading.

Because you were into grade school--

I mean, it wasn't like you were far down the line.


TERRY MEEUWSEN: But other children were reading,

and you were not.


I didn't learn to read until I was

12, stuttered until I was 20.

There's a school of thought that children

learn to read from birth to 7, and read to learn 7 on.

So the belief is that I must have missed something

in those first seven years of life.

My parents, their relationship was falling apart.

Both my parents worked multiple jobs.

And older siblings.

So I just got passed through.

And I was getting social promotions.

Basically because at the time when

I was in public school in Baltimore,

my hometown, if you were polite and didn't cause trouble,

that got you a C minus.



TERRY MEEUWSEN: Right off the books.


How did your mom handle that?

Because that's tough for a parent, you know?

When you feel like your child is struggling

and you're not a teacher.

What did she do?

My mother, her name is Clarice Pitts.

God called her home about four years ago.

A woman of great faith.

My mother believed there's nothing you couldn't overcome

with hard work and prayer.

And so, she said, son, when we got the diagnosis--

because these experts, it was their belief

that I was mentally retarded.



Their words.

And I should be institutionalized.

And my mother is like, OK.

If that's God's destiny for my child, so be it.

But between here and there, we're

going to work as hard as we can.

We're going to look for help.


And she found an adult literacy program,

and begged her way in to get me in.

But a woman of great faith.

How were you feeling along the way with all of this?

Because you know, that becomes in some children's lives sort

of a self-fulfilling prophecy.


I mean, I remember telling my mom once--

I was about 11 years old, having to relearn the alphabet,

and I was struggling with that.

And I said, mom, I'm stupid.

She was like, baby, you're not stupid.

God has a purpose for you.

There she is, Clarice Pitts.

A wonderful, elegant woman.

And we just prayed at it, worked at it.

And my mother also though believed in hard work.

And she was demanding.

Someone asked my mom once, how was

she able, as a single parent, as a divorcee,

to send three kids to college?

My mom said it was simple.

I told each child, you will go to college

or I will beat you to death.



So there was some old school--

That works.

Yeah, absolutely.

We're going to pray about it.

If that don't work.

Talk about the note you got from a teacher in sixth grade,

because was that sort of the beginning

of the turnaround for you?

Yeah, it was.

I was able to bring a note home from school

and read it to my mother out loud, where before, I

would just hand it to her and gauge her reaction.

And I remember my mother, who was a woman of great faith,

never got particularly emotional very often.

And she teared up.

And that gave me great joy.

I'm a proud mama's boy.

So most of my life has been about making her proud.

One of the reasons why I aspired to work for network television

was so my mother and my grandmother

could see me on television.

TERRY MEEUWSEN: Could see you.

This is before cable TV, [INAUDIBLE]..

TERRY MEEUWSEN: But Byron, I mean, here you go.

You go off to college.

And I want you to talk about where

you were at in the struggle of all of this at that point.

I mean, just getting off to college

was a huge accomplishment.

But good grief, to choose journalism of all things.

I mean, it's nice to have your mom be able to see you on TV.

But I mean, like really?

What went into that whole process and that whole decision


I learned my faith at my mother's knee.

And my mother taught me to believe

that God has a calling for all of us,

and that there are no stumbling blocks in life,

only stepping stones.

And so, my challenges with literacy and my challenges

were speech were gifts that God gave me to figure out.

And so, we thought, OK.

Those are two things that I struggle with

and that I now appreciate.

Like a deep appreciation for words.

I know what it means to feel powerless,

because I felt that, because my issues with growing up.

And as a journalist, my fundamental job I believe

is to shed light in dark places, afflict

the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted,

give voice to the voiceless.

And that felt Godly to my mother and to me.

TERRY MEEUWSEN: Like it fit right into your--

BYRON PITTS: Exactly right.

Exactly right.

TERRY MEEUWSEN: So, how did you overcome the stuttering?

That's not something that you can just say, gee,

I'm not going to do this anymore.


Well I still am a stutterer, but I've learned to manage it.

I had a wonderful professor.

I mean, I've had wonderful people that I call them angels.

That God has brought into my life at different points

to teach me different things.

I had a wonderful professor in college Paul Robinson,

rough old school guy.

He says, here's what we're going to do, Pitts.

We're going to put you on a live radio show.

I'm like, but doc--



And force me to deal with it.

Now, I would think most speech pathologist would not

recommend that technique.

But he would have me read the newspaper out loud.

He would have me read it with pencils in my mouth,

so I could feel what it felt like to speak properly.

TERRY MEEUWSEN: But here's the thing.

You must have had something in you

that was willing to endure the process

to get to the other side of the bridge.

Not everybody's willing to do that.

Well, you know, I had Clarice Pitts.

TERRY MEEUWSEN: Yeah, well I guess.

Go Clarice.

And this notion of--

I mean, the Bible speaks of overcomers.

You hear the story of David.

Like I love the story of David.

Before we even get to when he slayed

Goliath, but with the anointing oil.


That how God will defy gravity to give people what is theirs.

And my mother's favorite book next to the Bible

was the "Power Of Positive Thinking"

by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale and this notion

that I can do all things through Christ.

"If God be fore me, who can be against me?"


Because of God's-- like I bet every person,

you have a favorite word.

My favorite word is grace.


I pretty much like that too.


Unmerited gift from God.

And so, all that I have, all I've been blessed with

have been gifts from Him.

And it is a testament, not to me or even to my mother,

but to God's amazing grace.


"Be The One," your book, the true stories of teens

overcoming hardship with hope.


What do you want people to take away from this?

To be encouraged.

Like you, I travel a lot.

Talk to a lot of young people.

I'm struck by whether a kid's in Ivy League school

or in nobody's school, they often feel discouraged.

And I'm worried about what the future holds.

You know, you watch the news every day,

you think the world is falling apart.

And I was struck by that.

And I want young people to know that there are examples

of young people who've overcome horrific things with optimism

and with strength.

A number of these young people, not all,

are young people of great faith.

Like my calling, I'm a journalist.

I'm proud of my profession.

Proud of what I do.

But I believe my purpose at this stage of my life

is to encourage people.

And this is to encourage young people.

TERRY MEEUWSEN: Yeah, don't give up.


I mean, in many ways, your story reminds me,

though it certainly has its own specifics, but of Ben Carson.


TERRY MEEUWSEN: You know, again, a mom

who just had powerful impact.

So moms and dads, don't give up.

Hang in there for your boys and girls.

BYRON PITTS: Oh, no question.

I think life has taught me that if you have two loving parents,

man, that's awesome.

And if you're born in the United States, you've won the lottery.

But life has taught me if you just

have one person who loves you--

in my case, it was my mom and my extended family.

I have a wonderful aunt.

I know she is watching this morning

from Raleigh, North Carolina.

My aunt Gladys.

Call her Honey Bun.

The sweetest woman on earth.

So I was surrounded by people who believed in me

and prayed for me.

TERRY MEEUWSEN: Made a difference.


TERRY MEEUWSEN: Yeah, made a difference.

Well, you can be the one too.

Byron, thank you so much for the message you bring us.

BYRON PITTS: Thank you.

You can read more inspiring stories by getting his book.

Boy, for parents, this is a great read.

But if you're a teen, read this as well, because you might

be the one that God has something

specific and special planned for.

Book's available wherever books are sold.

And it's a great read.


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