TheGrio's 100: Byron Pitts, from illiteracy to world-class journalist

TheGrio's 100 - Functionally illiterate until age 12, nothing in Byron Pitts' background suggested that he'd become an Emmy award-winning journalist...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Functionally illiterate until age 12 and stuttering well until his college years, nothing in Byron Pitts’ background suggested that he’d become an Emmy award-winning journalist. Top CBS News correspondent and 60 Minutes contributor, Pitts grew up in Baltimore in a strained home until his parents divorced when he was 12.

Crediting God first and then his mother for most of his achievements, Pitts proudly recounts how his mother refused to institutionalize him after a doctor diagnosed him as mildly retarded in his bestseller Step Out on Nothing: How Faith and Family Helped Me Conquer Life’s Challenges, released in 2009.

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Clarice Pitts put in extra hours to ensure her son’s success. Eventually he learned to read and decided to become a journalist. As a freshman at Ohio Wesleyan, however, he still stuttered and performed so poorly that an English professor suggested he drop out. The generosity of friends and strangers helped right his course and, in 1982, he graduated from Ohio Wesleyan with a degree in journalism and speech communication.

Toiling towards his goal, Pitts worked first at a weekly newspaper that didn’t even give him a notebook. His first TV reporter gig in Greenville, N.C. only paid $8,600 a year and the next in Norfolk, Va. just a little better at $12,000. Yet, he rose through the ranks, becoming a CBS News correspondent in 1998, first in Miami and then Atlanta, before moving to New York in 2001.

Covering 9/11 as one of the lead reporters at CBS News earned Pitts a national Emmy. Not one to stay out of harm’s way, Pitts has also travelled to cover the Iraq War, war in Afghanistan, the refugee crisis in Kosovo, Hurricane Katrina and other life-threatening news events. He won his first national Emmy covering the Chicago train wreck in 1999.

Ten years later, he was named chief national correspondent for The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric and also scored his dream job as contributing correspondent to 60 Minutes, where his own inspirational life story was featured in tandem with the release of his book. Pitts’ stellar track record, coupled with his increased visibility, only points to greater milestones in the future.