Life can leave people “bitter or better.”
RaShad Bristo has been sharing that message with audiences of all ages for a decade now.
“Make no mistake,” Bristo cautioned students at Cloutierville Elementary and Junior High on Wednesday, “Every person has to struggle with that choice.”
The choice to grow “bitter or better” confronted Bristo at a young age. He was born with only one arm, and that disability left him asking, “Why me, God?”
His missing limb led to bullying in school. It got so bad that one day Bristo came home crying and begging his grandfather not to send him back to school. His grandfather told him to dry his tears and then made a strange request. He told Bristo to push the lawn mower across the yard and look back at the path he created. Bristo did.
“Is it perfect?” his grandfather asked. Bristo had to reply “no” because of the patches he missed. His grandfather said that’s what life is like.
“You have to push hard,” Bristo said quoting his grandfather, “ … and when you look back it still won’t be perfect.”
It was years later before Bristo fully appreciated what that lesson meant. It happened around the time he was 21 and fresh out of college. He dreamed of working in law enforcement and went down to the DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office to find out what that would take. The Sheriff there recognized Bristo from years ago and asked if he the same little boy who used to be out mowing his lawn despite only having one arm.
“He asked, if I give you a job,” Bristo said quoting the Sheriff, “can you give me the same dedication you have that lawn?”
That was the first door that opened and led to his career of 18 years in law enforcement. Bristo became the first police academy graduate in the country with only one arm. He worked as a DeSoto Parish sheriff’s deputy for six years and a Caddo Parish junior probation officer for two years. Then, he worked 10 years for the Louisiana Department of Corrections.
Bristo lives in Mansfield and travels as a speaker to mostly professional business. He also authored the book “Bitter or Better: Doing More with Less” about his experiences. Workers at the Christus St. Frances Cabrini School Based Health Center in Cloutierville heard Bristo speak at a conference.
“He was wonderful,” said April Matt, a counselor at the health center, and that’s why she and the other ladies invited him to the Elementary and Junior High School in Natchitoches Parish.
Matt and Principal Sharon French were pleased by the student’s response to what Bristo had to say.
“They were more attentive than I have probably ever seen them,” Matt said. “I feel he related to them.”