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Southwest Florida host dives into giving back

Posted at 10:31 AM, Mar 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-02 10:40:59-05

FORT MYERS, Fla.  — Lee Pitts is a well-known, Southwest Florida talk show host of more than 30 years.

Lee Pitts Live has now evolved to a platform much bigger than what you see on tv or online.

Pitts’ brand includes live events, providing an after-work experience for local professionals.

Pitts talked to FOX 4 via Zoom, as he prepared for his annual Lee Pitts Live People of the Year celebration.

That event honors local, Southwest Florida people who are trailblazing within their respected fields. Some of this year’s recipients include local education advocate, Tamara Hunter, and former Fort Myers mayor candidate, Jacqueline Miller.

When you learn more about Lee’s mission for his show and his events, it’s easier to understand how creating his own platform to recognize people in our community aligns with his ultimate goal of providing chances to elevate the community’s voice - particularly those in communities of color.

Pitts’ desire to use his resources to support his community is rooted in his upbringing.

He grew up in Birmingham, Alabama.

“Pretty much my whole childhood I grew up in poverty. I did not know I was in poverty. ”

Growing up in government housing, Lee says his family didn’t have much.

But, there’s one amenity they did have.

“I am so glad we had a pool located smack dab in the middle of the housing projects.”

At the time, it cost $.50 to use the pool.

Pitts says he’d spend as much time as he could finding and collecting empty soda bottles.

He’d trade them in for change to get into the pool.

Lee swam so much that a lifeguard noticed one day when he stood by the gate, and didn’t enter the actual pool.

Pitts says that’s because he didn’t have enough bottles that day.

“This is what changed my life,” he tells FOX 4.

That lifeguard told Pitts about free swim classes for disadvantaged children.

Pitts says when he got that opportunity, he started swimming from the time the pool opened to the time it closed.

That opportunity marked a turning point in Pitt’s life.

He mastered swimming.

Pitts went on to swim for the Macline Swim Team, and the Birmingham Parks and Recreation Swim Team.

He became a Red Cross certified swim instructor, and taught in his hometown.

Pitts has traveled around the world as an instructor, actively fighting CDC data that shows Black kids die from drowning at a higher rate.

But he tells FOX 4 the lesson he teaches children goes beyond swimming.

“If they’re competent around the water, then their self-esteem is there.”

Teaching children to swim is a mission Pitts brought with him to Southwest Florida.

He founded the Lee Pitts Swim School in Fort Myers, of which team swimmers became champions in the Southwest Florida Swim League.

Meanwhile, Pitts was taking the banking industry by storm.

The Talladega College graduate says he was the 1st Black Vice President of a bank in the area.

He tells FOX 4 he never planned to have a television show - but the start of that was rooted in swimming, too.

An interview about swimming and drowning, led to public service announcements about drowning prevention. Those led to a guest host spot, that the tv host says he did not want. But, that led to his own show.

Pitts is clear about his goal for the show.

“My mission is to show my people in a positive light on television.”

Pitt’s own light shines he says because of his supportive mother, and other who he calls his “angels” - people like that lifeguard who ushered him towards opportunities.

It’s a notion that he’s conscious of - actively recognizing the positive impacts his hometown has had on his life, while recognizing disparities that hindered others.

“Everybody didn’t get the angel help that I got, and I’ll never forget that. I see’ em. I know what happened to my friends. I know what happened to my neighborhood. I know what still happens. ”

Pitts says that why he’s dedicated to helping his community at the pool, in Birmingham, and in Southwest Florida.

You can read more about Pitts’ swimming accomplishments here.