Byron Pitts has a pretty good thing going. He’s been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, working in Miami and Atlanta before coming to New York in 2001. He’s now the chief national correspondent for the “CBS Evening News” and contributes to “60 Minutes.” But as a child he had a profound stutter. Pitts wrote about it in his memoir “Step out on Nothing” in 2009. With attention being giving to the Oscar-favorite film “The King’s Speech,” how King George VI worked through his stammer to deliver a defining speech before WWII, Pitts shares how he overcame his stutter. On HuffPost this morning, Pitts writes:
Once in grade school I was attacked by a bully outside a neighborhood fast food restaurant. I was unable to defend myself physically or verbally. He took my food and my dignity that day. The moment still haunts me. There were of course the loving relatives and dear friends who tried to help me by finishing my sentences or defended me to others. To them I will be forever grateful.
I actually didn’t get help for my stutter until I was almost out of college. A speech professor at Ohio Wesleyan University heard me struggling one day in class. It was during a group discussion about our future occupations. Other students were shouting out: Lawyer… teacher… entrepreneur. Then it was my turn. “Jour— jour— jour—jour– journalist,” I said. There was laughter.
The professor asked to see me after class where he kindly offered to help me for free. There was no formal program to follow so it was trial and error. You could call it tough love for stuttering. He would make me read the newspaper with pencils in my mouth. I would read great works of literature backwards. There were breathing exercises, audio recordings, even singing while reading. We made a list of words I should avoid and a separate list of replacement words. And he encouraged me to take a job at the university radio station as a disc jockey where I was forced to confront my terror and speak in public.
It was a difficult and at times painful road. For the first twenty years of my life I’d felt virtually voiceless. One man helped changed that. It’s one of the reasons I became a journalist: to give voice to the voiceless.