FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
It's time now for StoryCorp Griot. Each Tuesday, we bring you story from this project that's recording black Americans across the country.
Today, we listen in to Johnnie Tyson and her niece, Sandra Fleming. The two of them sat down together during a StoryCorp stop in Little Rock, Arkansas. Here, Tyson talks to her niece honestly about growing up obese.
Ms. JOHNNIE TYSON (Resident, Little Rock, Arkansas): I was a 13-pound baby at birth. By the time I was 6 years old, I was weighing over a hundred pounds. When I was nine, I weighed 250 pounds. When I was 15, I weighed 329 pounds. And the only place I could weigh would be to go to the old Baptist Hospital and then weigh on those freight scales. And I didn't know how to work the scales. I always had to get somebody's help and then they'd go and rush to tell everybody come and look, you know? It was a sight when you see a 300-pound teenager - and particularly when I came along because I'm a child of the Great Depression.
Ms. SANDRA FLEMING (Johnnie Tyson's niece): How do you think your size affected your personality, too?
Ms. TYSON: Oh, yes. It's hard to describe how you feel. You feel so insecure. And everybody, for the most part, just laughed at me. Then I tried to grin and bear it. But it was just such a painful experience. And in the elementary grade, I don't think I had single teacher that I could truthfully say was just unkind.
But you could tell how they felt when there were little things to be done like maybe go in to those teachers' room or getting a glass of water. You were just kind of left alone. And you have to be extremely heavy before you understand what a painful situation it is. And I really believe it helps me to establish an empathy with almost any problem that people have that keeps them from being able to accept themselves as they'd like to.
Ms. FLEMING: Well, can I ask you what are you most proud of in your life?
Ms. TYSON: Let me put it like this: If you're wise, you accept life whatever it presents and make the best of it, unless you want to go nuts. I accepted whatever came. Some of it was pleasant, some of it was not. But I think the fact that I was able to accept it and move on and do as well as I did, is the thing that I'm proudest of.
CHIDEYA: Johnnie Tyson is 82 years old now. She went on to work as an educator for nearly three decades. She was interviewed by her niece Sandra Fleming.
The StoryCorp Griot booth is currently in Mississippi. All the Griot initiative recordings are archived at the Library of Congress. A copy of each interview will also go to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
To find out how to record your interview and to hear more from StoryCorp Griot, got to our Web site, nprnewsandnotes.org
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