Byron Pitts Found Faith To 'Step Out On Nothing' When CBS correspondent Byron Pitts was 12 years old, he had a debilitating stutter and a terrible secret: he couldn't read. In his new memoir, Step Out On Nothing, Pitts describes how, with faith and family, he overcame illiteracy to become an award-winning correspondent.
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Byron Pitts Found Faith To 'Step Out On Nothing'

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Byron Pitts Found Faith To 'Step Out On Nothing'

Byron Pitts Found Faith To 'Step Out On Nothing'

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan, in Washington.

If you happened to catch 60 Minutes last night on CBS, you might have seen correspondent Byron Pitts report after he embedded with a bomb hunting unit in Afghanistan. Or maybe you saw some of his reports from Iraq, or New Orleans after hurricane Katrina, or in New York after 9/11. The role of correspondent on 60 Minutes is among the top jobs in broadcast journalism, and it would be hard to find a more unlikely star. As a child, Byron Pitts was unable to express himself. He spoke with a debilitating stutter, and he was unable to read before he entered high school. He hid that devastating secret from the adults in his life until he found himself assigned to the remedial classes in his inner-city school, where prison seemed a much more likely future.

Byron Pitts joins us in just a moment. Later in the hour, Kevin Baker on his new graphic novel, Luna Park. But first, Byron Pitts, and we also want to hear from you. If this is your story, if you struggled with illiteracy, give us a call. How did you overcome it? Wed also like to hear from parents and teachers whove dealt with functional illiterates. Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: You can also join the conversation on our Web Site. Thats at Click on TALK OF THE NATION. And Byron Pitts is with us now from our bureau in New York. His new book is called Step Out on Nothing: How Faith and Family Helped Me Conquer Lifes Challenges. And thanks very much for being with us today.

Mr. BYRON PITTS (Broadcast Journalist, 60 Minutes): Hey, Neal. My pleasure. Good afternoon.

CONAN: And Im curious. You went to school a long time, where you were unable to read. How did you fake it all those years?

Mr. PITTS: Well, I was blessed with a good memory. I could memorize things. Im a picture reader, so I could recognize words and their context, and basically faked it. You know, according to the National Center for Family Literacy, there are 30 million adults in our country who are functionally illiterate, who cant read. Thats one in seven adults in the most powerful country on earth. So, I wasnt alone.

CONAN: No. You talk about convincing your older brother to read to you from the book at night, the night before and youd memorize that, that paragraph, and when it got to that point in the class, then youd raise your hand.

Mr. PITTS: Exactly right. I had - it was down to a science. I would raise my hand, actually, two or three sentences before I got to the graph Id memorized to let the teacher know I was interested. And, in fact, if she called on me before we got to the sentence I memorized, I would say, oh, no. Thats okay. Let Johnny read it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PITTS: And that fed into my reputation of being a polite, mannerable kid.

CONAN: There is also an element of well, how did it happen? Have you gone back and tried to figure out how, when other kids were learning how to read, you didnt?

Mr. PITTS: Yeah. Well, there is a school of thought that from age, you know, 0-7 children learn to read. And from seven thereon, you read to learn. And so probably in those first seven years, I missed some steps. As I said earlier, Im a visual learner. So perhaps some of the traditional means of teaching a child to read didnt work for me. And I got passed by - passed along. And then finally when I was failing in math and they tested me to see why I was failing in math, they discovered the issue wasnt arithmetic. The issue was I couldnt read the directions.

But by that time, Id fallen so far behind in school, I was placed in remedial classes. But fortunately, my mother, who I talk about quite a bit in the book, is a woman of great faith, and she simply wouldnt give up on me. One of the early therapists, it was their diagnosis that I was mentally retarded. And my mother says, no, I dont think thats right. Test him again. The next therapist said, well, if hes not retarded, bring him back when hes 15. And my mother said, well, I dont think thats right. If we wait till that time, hell be dead or in prison. He needs help now. And fortunately, I was blessed with a great mom who just didnt give up on me.

CONAN: And then, how did a person who struggled with words, who was a slow reader well into high school and even on into college, someone who struggled with words learned to love them?

Mr. PITTS: I was raised to believe that there are no stumbling blocks in life, only stepping stones. And so, when words came to me relatively late in life, it was like Christmas everyday, the opportunity to read words and to see the world and to go places I could only go through words. And I love it. I mean, Ive often said that for me, reading is like breathing. And now, as a journalist, so many years later, basically, I get paid to read.

CONAN: Yeah, you get paid to read. Its a great business.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: There is also the other part that I have to ask you about, the stuttering. And a lot of young kids have stuttering problems. You were not alone there either, though

Mr. PITTS: Yeah.

CONAN: everybody every kid thinks theyre always alone with their problem

Mr. PITTS: Oh, yeah.

CONAN: whatever it is.

Mr. PITTS: Oh, yeah.

CONAN: Nevertheless, you are in college, and you run into a therapist whos is going to help you with this. Of course, they dont have access to the real kinds of equipment that you could use, and they send you to the radio station.

Mr. PITTS: Yeah. Its my alma mater, Ohio Wesleyan University, didnt have a speech pathology program. It had a speech department. And so the guy who ran the speech department noticed my stutter one day in class, called me into his office and said, heres what were going to do. The first thing were going to do, were going to have you work at the radio station - not the safest place for a stutter.


Mr. PITTS: And he said, well, before we put you on air, I want you to record your voice, and I want you to read the newspaper, out loud. Okay, simple enough. But he said I want you to do it with pencils in your mouth

CONAN: What?

Mr. PITTS: because I want you to yeah, with pencils, because I want you to feel the sound of words. He would had me read the newspaper, read Shakespeare backwards, so I could focus more on the sound of words than the word or the sentence itself. And then he would have me do breathing exercises. We spent a lot of time - he would have me go through drills where I would learn to think before I speak, which isnt a bad skill to have in journalism.

CONAN: No. A rare one, but its not a bad one.

Mr. PITTS: Yeah, right. Right.

CONAN: So you were little like Demosthenes, the great Greek orator, who learned to speak by holding stones in his mouth.

Mr. PITTS: Yeah, yeah. Sidney Poitier, the great American actor, when he was learning to manage his stutter, he spoke with rocks in his mouth.

CONAN: And this eventually, well, this led to something that as opposed to somebody who was so shy abut expressing themselves, you would go, you said, entire weekends without speaking, as a kid. And now, you make your living not only reading, but speaking.

Mr. PITTS: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, to me, that speaks to the greatness of our country, that it doesnt matter where you start, you can finish almost at any place you want to finish. I was surrounded by a number of wonderful people. One of the things I talk about in the book its as much about, I call them the angels in my life, people who intervened, who stepped out on nothing, had nothing to gain by helping me, like the speech pathologist. He could have I mean the speech professor.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. PITTS: He could have passed me along and not being bothered. I wasnt one of his primary students. But he stepped out on nothing and gave of himself, anyway. And so many people in my life - and I would suspect for many people. We all have examples of people who stepped out on nothing to help us, to help us get to where we are in life.

CONAN: This is a story of inspiration, and theres many people you write about - not just that one professor, but Coach Mack, you write about a lot, and, of course, your mother, you write about a lot. And there other people, too, in high school and various other places, who reached out and helped you when they didnt need to. Nevertheless, you also write about the rage that burned inside you. You were always - the one good grade you always got was in deportment, or behavior. Nevertheless, you talked about how angry you were.

Mr. PITTS: Yeah. Like a lot of young people, I would suspect, in our country. My parents divorced when I was very young, and like many children of divorce, I was bitter and angry about that, angry with my father. And so, for much of my life, up until very recently, I was motivated by that anger. I will be successful to prove that man that I was worthy of his love. I will be successful to prove to that man that I was worthy of his love. I will be successful to prove all those people who laughed at me, who criticized my mother for fighting so for me, to prove them wrong. So yeah, anger was, for me, for much of my life, was like fuel.

The last chapter in the book, I talk about the power of forgiveness. In many ways for me, learning to read, learning to manage my stutter, was much easier than learning to forgive, to let go of that anger.

CONAN: Than - really?

Mr.�PITTS: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Because, I mean, it - for much of my life, I thought the anger was a strength of mine, that I learned to channel that anger, I thought, in positive ways. But ultimately, I discovered that I was I paid a high price for that. I talk about in the book, my the last chapter is devoted primarily to the issue of forgiveness and my relationship with my father and how I was angry with this man for so long.

And then finally, we had a confrontation, a meeting which I detail, in my hometown of Baltimore. And I was expecting this great, healing moment when I explained to my father my feelings about him, my love for him and wanting love in return. And I all I got was this can I have some money? You going to finish the rest of your food? No connection whatsoever to my emotion.

And at that moment, I started to laugh because I realized at that very moment that all those years that Id been angry and holding this man responsible for my life, and I didn't have to. It wasn't necessary. And I'd been dragging around this grown man for 30-plus years. But the same grace that sustained me, that gave my mother the strength to persevere with me is that same grace that allowed me to let go of the anger with my father and to recognize that he's just a man. He's not a monster. He did what he did, and I wouldn't be where I am now without what he did and what he didn't do for me.

CONAN: We're talking with CBS "60 Minutes" correspondent Byron Pitts. If you'd like to join the conversation: 800-989-8255. Email us: Let's start with Julie, Julie with us from Cleveland.

JULIE (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

JULIE: I have a daughter, and she was in kindergarten, and it happened to be a kindergarten they taught them to read. And she loved to read, and she would read books to us. And finally we get called in in second grade, and the teacher said your daughter can't read.

And we said she's always read us books. And what happened, she had a photographic memory, and someone, the teacher would read the book to the students and then hand out the books, and they could pick them. She always picked a book we'd read, and she knew it word for word just by hearing it once, and she would give it back to them.

So we get called in in second grade, shocked. All of a sudden, we find out our daughter can't read after three years of school.

CONAN: And how is she doing now?

Mr.�PITTS: She's an honor student at Ohio State.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�PITTS: Go Buckeyes.

JULIE: But we had to take her to many different places to get them to teach her to read. She didn't respond to just regular ways of teaching in school. We had to get her help.

CONAN: Byron, it's interesting. There were all sorts of tests and remedial classes. The way you describe it, what worked for you was an adult course for adults to learn how to read.

Mr.�PITTS: Absolutely. And I think, you know, Julie's story with her child is very common for many people that suddenly, people think that sometimes literacy has to do with intellect, with someone's intelligence, but not at all. Its how your mind processes information and how you're taught.

Yet it was because in the 1970s, late 1960s, there weren't many programs that are available today, organizations like NCFL, who can work with young people or work with adults. And so there was nothing for me. But fortunately, there was an ad on television for an adult literacy program, and I saw it on TV and I jotted the number down and said mama, give them a call. And she did. And they kindly enough allowed this child to participate in this program, and it changed my life.

CONAN: Julie, we wish your daughter good luck. I suspect she's going to earn whatever she gets on her own, but thank you very much for the call.

JULIE: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

Mr.�PITTS: All the best.

CONAN: We're talking with Byron Pitts today. His memoir is called "Step Out on Nothing," and we're taking your calls. If you've struggled with literacy, tell us your story: 800-989-8255. Email us: Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Byron Pitts was a chronic stutterer until he was 20 and diagnosed as functionally illiterate at 12. Now he's chief national correspondent for the CBS Evening News and a "60 Minutes" contributor. We're talking about that journey today. His new memoir is called "Step Out on Nothing."

Growing up, Byron Pitt says there were a lot of secrets in his house. You can read about the day Byron's mother confronted his father about his unfaithfulness in an excerpt on our Web site. That's at And we want to hear from you. Is this your story? If you've struggled with literacy, give us a call. How did you overcome it? 800-989-8255. Email is You can also join the conversation on our Web site. Thats at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And we have this email from Maria: I came to the U.S. from Greece when I was 12. Our somewhat affluent school district didn't have the slightest clue as to what to do with a non-English-speaking child. I spent a lot of time working on simple puzzles and other toys found around our school's special needs classroom.

Five years later, my guidance counselor told me to save my parents money and skip college because I would never amount to much. He said my IQ score was embarrassingly low and wouldn't tell me what it was.

For years, I was devastated, depressed, angry. I now have a master's degree and a very successful career. My bachelor's degree is in English education. Not bad I'd say.

That's interesting. Byron, you had a teacher at Ohio Wesleyan with sort of a similar experience.

Mr.�PITTS: Oh, yeah. And I've heard the same story told by people, different versions across the country. My freshman year in college, I was on academic probation, not doing well, a midterm away from flunking out of school, and my English professor one day passed out papers and announced to the class: Congratulations, Mr.�Pitts, your best work thus far: D+. Come see me after class.

I went to his office. He said this won't take long. It's my opinion you're not Ohio Wesleyan University material. You're wasting my time and the government's money. That quotation has lived for a long time in my family. I was 17 years old and raised to respect authority. So I thought if this man said I wasn't worthy, I should leave.

I left his office, went next door and began filling out the papers to withdraw from school, and I started to cry because I was mindful of what that decision would mean for me, mean for my family, the shame it would bring to my family.

As I was crying, a stranger walked by. I didn't know her. She didn't know me. And she said: Young man, what's wrong? And I told her my story. She sat down, and she listened for about 20 minutes, said come see me the next day. Come to find out, that stranger was also an English professor at Ohio Wesleyan. Her name is Ulle Lewes. She's from the country of Estonia.

She was a child of World War II. So she recognized struggle. She'd endured discrimination during World War II. So I think she recognized struggle in this young person. She stopped. She helped me. She became my unofficial advisor. In fact, she told me then, on academic probation, she said son, someday you will write a book.

She was encouraging, just like my mother and other people in my life, and she planted seeds of kindness in me and optimism, and she encouraged me, she worked with me after hours. She stepped out on nothing for me and made all the difference in the world.

CONAN: You've left one part out of that story. There was a blistering letter you got from your mother.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�PITTS: That's right. My mother - a quick story about my mom. She is a delightful, delightful person, strong-willed, Southern, Christian woman, Bible-quoting woman. She - for all of my life, she's worn around her neck a small mustard seed in a clear plastic ball on a chain, and it's been her daily visual reminder of the scripture in Matthew that says: If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, mountain move from here to there, and it shall move.

It is with my mother's mountain-moving faith that she encouraged me all my life, but there's also a fiery side to my mother. When I was having struggles that freshman year of college and thinking about dropping out of school, my mother - who wrote letters to me in school weekly. And she would send letters in black ink, which meant everything's fine, blue ink meant there was some issue that had her sad. But if the letter came in red, that meant that momma was angry and angry with you.

So when she got wind that I was not only struggling in school, but thinking about leaving school, she wrote me a letter in red. Its in - the letter's in the book.

CONAN: Yes, it is.

Mr.�PITTS: And it says, the letter starts off, from my loving mother, in red: Dear Mr.�Brain-dead.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�PITTS: Have you lost your mind? And she goes on to say, in very choice language, very creative language, to make the case that you're not going to quit school, you're not going to give up, you're going to work your way past your problems. That's my mother, old-school.

CONAN: Email from Emmy(ph). Is your mother still living? If not, did she live to see your success?

Mr.�PITTS: She is. My mom's alive. She lives in Apex, North Carolina, a small town outside of Raleigh, her hometown. And, in fact, when I started the book tour, she went with me. And there were more people asking for her to autograph their books than they were asking me in some places.

So, yeah, I'm so grateful that she has been able to watch what her labor produced, that when, you know, as I say in the book, when I sit in that chair on Sunday evenings on "60 Minutes," if you look closely, you'll see my momma, my grandmother, my brother and sister sitting with me because they invested their lives in me, and especially my mother, who was just a truth-sayer, an optimist by choice, and she instilled those things in me.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Let's go to Tim, Tim with us from Madison in Wisconsin.

TIM (Caller): Yes, hello. Thanks for the wonderful program. I'm listening here with a great admiration. And as a child, I developed a stutter in school, and it was actually, it was kind of dreadful years at school because one of the teachers that I used to have when we would try to read were imitating me reading, so therefore it would encourage the kids.

CONAN: Oh, to make fun of you, yeah.

TIM: To make fun of me, yeah. And I would come home from school every day extremely angry but very upset. And fortunately for me, I think at about the age of seven, my parents knew if this is not going to get taken care of, it will create bigger problems down the road.

So which, age at age seven, I was sent to a children's speech therapy hospital or children's hospital in Dublin for five weeks during the summer, and I came after coming back, then, of course, I was behind on my reading, and the teachers pretty much kind of left me behind. I was considered a slow learner.

I ended up dropping out of school at age 16, came to the U.S. at 21 and just struggled a lot with the I still had a lot of anger when I came to the U.S. and the American people imitating my strong Irish brogue at the time, it took me back to the children in school imitating my stutter.

So I carried a lot of anger for a long, long time. But through the years, I've kind of learned to deal with it, and now one of my favorite things to do is read. I spend a lot of time in the wintertime reading because I work, I'm self-employed in a small construction company

CONAN: A lot of time on your hands, yeah. I wonder. One of the things that Byron Pitts writes about in his book that, like a lot of people who stutter, he could still sing. Did you ever sing, Tim?

TIM: Actually, no. I did not sing. But I remember a few years after the stutter, after the stutter was cured, my mother happened to be reading something in a newspaper or a magazine or something that singing helps the stutter, and no, I did not one of my favorite things I love to do right now is tell stories. But no, I never did sing, but I found out a number of years later that that does help.

CONAN: All right, well, Tim, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it.

TIM: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. There was that release that you found in church, when you would go and sing in the choir because there, the stutter was not a problem for you, Byron Pitts. But eventually, of course, they required you to read music. So it's a double whammy.

Mr.�PITTS: Exactly. Now, for full disclosure, I have to say I was in the choir, but I wasn't a good singer. I was one of those fellows on the row of tenors who, you know, who look good in a robe, but I didn't contribute much to the choir, but it

CONAN: And when asked to read the words that were printed, you sang watermelon, watermelon, watermelon.

Mr.�PITTS: That's right. Someone told me years ago that if you don't know the words of a song, just mouth watermelon, and it'll sound like whatever it'll like you're singing the right words. Yeah, that was a struggle.

You know, one of the things I noticed in Tim's comments and in Julie's comments, they both talked about parents. Tim talked about what his parents did for him. Julie talked about what she and her husband did for their child. I think we can't underestimate the value of parents getting involved and how they can be their child's chief advocate.

My mother was certainly that case. She was my number one advocate. When the school system wanted to give up on me, she refused. When I wanted to give up on myself, she refused.

I remember once, when I was beginning to learn to read, I was learning the alphabet all over again. And by this time, I had classmates who were reading, you know, studying the Civil War, reading Shakespeare. And I am almost a teenager, and Im learning the alphabet. And I threw my notebook down in frustration and said, mom, Im a moron. And she said, baby, hang in there. Keep your head up. And she would love me past those difficult moments.

So I think Tim and Julie made those very points, one as a parent, and one as a child who had loving and supportive parents that the parents should know. And thats one of the things I seek to do in the book is to encourage people like parents, you know, how much influence they have in a childs life, and regardless of their resources, that they can do tremendous things to lead their children to live good and productive lives.

CONAN: One thing you also seem to have inherited, perhaps from your mother, is a streak of stubbornness. When told to do something, you have a habit of doing the opposite.

Mr. PITTS: Yeah. I certainly got that onus(ph) from my mother. I think that stubbornness comes from that optimistic spirit and believing that I believe I can do anything. My mother used to say that, you know, smart people can think their problems away, but we slow folks, we have to wrestle ours to the ground. And so I was just raised to believe that if - my mothers philosophy for raising her kids was simply that if you work hard and pray hard and treat people right, good things will happen. And thats been my attitude, that if people said, no, I cant, I think, okay, yeah, I can.

CONAN: Mmm. Why do a Catholic school with the white kids? Why should you go to Boston? You shouldnt go to Boston as a reporter. Thats a racist town.

Mr. PITTS: My mother, one of the reasons why she sent me to an all-boys, predominantly white Catholic high school in Baltimore - one of the reasons why I chose Ohio Wesleyan, though my mother had gone to Morgan State in Baltimore, my sister had gone to Savannah State, and she believes in the value of historically black colleges - one of the things she thought of value for me, she said, you know, if youre going to learn to quote, unquote, work in a white world, then you should theres value in you being in that kind of getting that kind of experience in college. So she directed me that way.

In my professional life, early on, I was trying to figure out why was there so little diversity at the network level - people of color, women. And so I would hear different things. From white male colleagues, they would say, well, we cant find people who are qualified. They dont work hard enough. Whatever. And from colleagues of color, they would say, well, they dont treat us right because of discrimination, because of racism.

So, at some point, I knew, in my professional life, I would have to study that, to learn what was racism and what was not. So when given the opportunity, I had a couple of job offers to work in major markets, and I chose Boston. Whether real or imagined, the city had the reputation of being a racist city because of its history during busing. And I thought, okay. If Im going to see because Im a visual learner if Im going to see corporate racism, I need to be in that environment so I can learn the hard lessons I need to learn to be prepared for network television.

One of the great legacies for me that came out of my struggles with literacy and with speech, Im someone Im a visual learner. Im someone who values repetition. I have to see things and have to do it over and over again until I finally comprehend it.

CONAN: Were talking with Byron Pitts, the 60 Minutes correspondent, the author now of Step Out on Nothing: How Faith and Family Helped Me Conquer Lifes Challenges.

Youre listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And lets go next to Cathy(ph), Cathy with us from Baton Rouge.

CATHY (Caller): Yeah. Im a retired reading specialist. I taught for 30 years overseas with the Department of Defense school. And we always looked for what the children know to build on. I found saw so many kids, especially the good kids, are overlooked because theyre on behavior problems. But right now, Im working with a 12-year-old student whos never been able to read. And I started with his strengths. Hes got a strong memory. So what I used is his memory for text, and I put just one little thing different in there for him to catch visually.

CONAN: Now, Byron Pitts, you had a strong memory, too.

Mr. PITTS: Yeah. Exactly. And that was

CATHY: A lot of kids do. There was a mother talking about her daughter memorizing a lot of stories.

Mr. PITTS: Yeah. Yeah.

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. PITTS: And there was a point in which that worked against me.

CATHY: Yeah.

Mr. PITTS: But eventually, it became a strength. And I think, you know, Cathy, God bless you, because its teachers like her who step out of, perhaps, what the regulations are to step out to where children are and give them the help that they need. And what a difference that they make.

CATHY: Well, now, Im able to work. Im retired, so Im a private tutor. And Im able to work as the childs advocate. It just infuriates me when they seem to expect all 27 bodies - or how many theyve got in a room - to fit into one mold.

Mr. PITTS: Thats right.

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. PITTS: Thats right.

CONAN: Yeah.

CATHY: Children learn differently. And youve got to find the way they learn.

Mr. PITTS: Thats absolutely right. You know, there was - a school teacher reached out to me on my Facebook page - and she said shes a fifth grade teacher in New Jersey - and said she tells the story of someone like Cathy, that she had a kid in her class who was considered a discipline problem.

CATHY: Right.

Mr. PITTS: And shed read my book and decided to read excerpts from the book out loud to her class. The boy came in to her afterwards and said, you know what? His story is my story. I cant read. And now because he learns differently, hes getting the help that he needs, and that teacher is meeting him where his needs are.

CATHY: One of the things that happens here is that they put so much emphasis on discipline and expecting children to be quiet, but they forget that children can help each other and teach each other.

CONAN: Hmm. Thats interesting, too. Cathy, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.

CATHY: Youre welcome.

CONAN: And I wanted to ask Byron Pitts before we have to let him go: A lot of your book is about faith, and youve talked openly about your faith today and what an important part it played in your life. What part does it play in your work?

Mr. PITTS: Well, I dont see any conflicts between my faith and my work. Im a Christian, and proud of it. Just like Im an Africa-American man, proud of that. As I see it, my job as a journalist is to seek truth, put truth to power, afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. Thats my responsibility as a journalist. As a person of faith, I was raised to respect people of all faiths. And my faith tradition says it is a search to better understand the truth that God has for me.

So I dont see any conflict between my job and my faith walk, because, you know, we are a nation of people of many different faiths. And so I can still function, do my job, be respectful of all people in all situations and still worship the way that I choose, raise my family that way. So, yeah, I dont see any conflict in either one of those things.

And Ive been sustained by my faith. Theres a great saying that someone said: Always dance with the one that brung you.


Mr. PITTS: And whats gotten me this far is that same faith I talked about, that mustard seed faith that I watched at my mothers knee applied in her life, is the same faith that sustains me now.

CONAN: And if you wonder if Byron Pitts has the integrity to tell the truth about himself in his book, he publishes the picture that reveals to all why he was known as Pickle as a young man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PITTS: Thats right. If you imagine you know, I have a pretty big head for a grown man. If you can imagine this: a melon-size head on a four-year-old, six-year-old boy, that was me. You know, my grandmother used to say that God doesnt put heavy burdens on weak shoulders. So I think God kept me small with freckles and a big head so I wouldnt grow up to become a bully, a discipline problem. I was one of those kids that Cathy talked about. I was one of the quiet kids who kept to myself.

But, you know so in the book, I wanted to tell people who have my kinds of struggles that theres joy on the other side of struggle, to tell people like Cathy to keep encouraging young people, keep working with them, that we can make a difference for people if we step out on nothing to help them.

CONAN: Byron Pitts, thanks very much for your time today. And good luck with the book.

Mr. PITTS: Thank you so much. All the best.

CONAN: Byron Pitts, a contributor to 60 Minutes and chief national correspondent for the CBS Evening News. His memoir is titled Step Out on Nothing: How Faith and Family Helped Me Conquer Lifes Struggles. He joined us from our bureau in New York.

Coming up: Kevin Bakers graphic novel is part noir thriller and part historical fiction. Its called Luna Park, and its set amongst the ruins of Coney Island. Stay with us. Im Neal Conan. Its the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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