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Published: Wednesday, 4/6/2011

Pitts: Good people make a difference

BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Byron Pitts, left, chief national correspondent for ‘The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric’ and a correspondent for ‘60 Minutes’ speaks with lawyer Pariss Coleman II before addressing the audience. Byron Pitts, left, chief national correspondent for ‘The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric’ and a correspondent for ‘60 Minutes’ speaks with lawyer Pariss Coleman II before addressing the audience.
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To an 11-year-old Baltimore girl who asked him after he spoke at her school, "Where do you go, where do you hide, when the world hurts too much?" Byron Pitts had the same message he gave to his Toledo audience last night.

"I said 'Please know there are good and decent people on earth, and the good people will find you and they'll make a difference in your life.' "

Television journalist Pitts encouraged and inspired the 250 who attended his Authors! Authors! talk in the McMaster Center of the Main Library to make a difference to people in need.

"Good and decent people need to step out in the lives of others to help them live the American dream," he said. "If you're doing things in your community, please keep doing them. There is no instant reward; that time you give may not bear fruit for years."

He speaks from experience: many hands reached out to help him over a slew of obstacles on his path. Consequently, Pitts, 50 and a hearty optimist, is living the dream he scrawled in his journal as a freshman at Ohio Wesleyan University in 1978. He's chief national correspondent for The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric and a correspondent for 60 Minutes. Being a chief national correspondent means "If major news breaks, I get to go." And go he has, to Kosovo, New Orleans, Iraq, Haiti, and into Manhattan's streets on Sept. 11, 2001. His Step Out on Nothing: How Faith and Family Helped Me Conquer Life's Challenges, was published in 2009.

A devout Baptist, Pitts was born in East Baltimore to a young woman who hadn't completed high school, had her first child at 17, and worked as a seamstress in a coat factory. By the age of 12, he was a stutterer who had only simple literacy skills, and his mother was told he was mentally retarded, a label she refused to accept.

In addition to her "mountain-moving faith," many others "stepped out on nothing" (nothing but faith or grace) to help him in myriad ways -- his minister, a man at church who called him "Champ" instead of "Chump," his best friend in college who, when he learned of Pitts' background, taught him a word a day for four years. And there was the Estonian-born professor who interrupted his tears after another professor told him didn't have what it took to attend Ohio Wesleyan. Pitts graduated from the school in 1982. He invites the Estonian-born professor to vacation with his family at their Martha's Vineyard home every summer.

Authors! Authors! is sponsored by The Blade and the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library. Next in the series will be Sebastian Junger at 7 p.m. May 4 in the Stranahan Theater. Junger is most known for his 1997 book, The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea, and recently, for his 2010 documentary of the war in Afghanistan, Restrepo, and his 2010 book War.

Contact Tahree Lane at: tlane@theblade.com, or 419-724-6075.



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