When Dr. Ben Carson spoke at the 10th annual University of Mobile Leadership Banquet just four days before announcing his candidacy for president of the United States, he said the university has something the nation needs.
“I want to talk a little bit tonight about our nation. It would be in good shape if the whole nation had the values of this school and the young people I have met here today, and the president and the professors,” Carson said.
The renowned pediatric neurosurgeon who has become an influential national leader shared the inspiring story of his rise from poverty to the heights of his profession, during the gala that raised more than $163,000 for university-funded scholarships. Performances by Voices of Mobile, RamCorps and Welsh Revival ensembles from the UMobile Center for Performing Arts entertained the audience of more than 1,200 who had gathered April 30 to support the university and hear from a man then-speculated to be just days away from throwing his hat into the ring.
Carson followed in the footsteps of previous high-powered influential leaders that have shared their insights and experiences at the Christian university’s leadership banquet. Previous speakers have included former President George W. Bush, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Arkansas Gov. and current presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, retired Col. Oliver North, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, former Georgia Gov. and retired U.S. Sen. Zell Miller, and New York Times best-selling author Andy Andrews.
Carson touched on a variety of topics: self-sufficiency and hard work, investing in others, the individual’s responsibility to be well-informed, the importance of education, faith, government inefficiency and waste, the economy, the environment, national defense, and the potential Americans have to solve a myriad of problems by using the complex, wonderful brains that God created.
“With those amazing brains that He has given us, we also have the ability to solve the many problems that plague us today and that threaten our future and the future of our children,” Carson said.
Prior to the banquet at the Mobile Convention Center on Mobile’s waterfront, Carson met privately with UMobile student leaders and UMobile President Dr. Mark Foley.
During their 45-minute conversation, UMobile students gave Carson a glimpse of what they thought made the university special. Incoming Student Government Association President Kayla Litton said the university “does a really excellent job of preparing us for the real world…academically pushing and at the same time spiritually preparing us.”
A student asked whether it was more important to represent one’s faith or one’s constituents when the two are at odds.
“I always go with my faith,” Carson said, adding that he aspires to be a leader, not a politician.
Asked what advice he would give to the next generation of leaders, Carson responded, “Be courageous. Be willing to stand up for what you believe in.”
On his way to a private reception with many of the university’s major donors, Carson spoke briefly with media. Responding to questions about the nation’s challenges, he cited a lack of leadership that results in a nation like “a third-grade classroom with no teacher.”
“There are all kinds of skirmishes breaking out. That’s what tends to happen when you don’t have leadership,” he told reporters.
He added, “I believe that the country is in big trouble right now. We need to become a people of principle once again.”
A Success Story
Carson’s resume is impressive – made even more so as he told stories during the evening of growing up in poverty and his mother’s determination to be self-sufficient.
The recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States, Carson is an emeritus professor of neurosurgery, oncology, plastic surgery and pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, where he directed pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center for 29 years.
Career highlights include the first and only successful separation of craniopagus (Siamese) twins joined at the back of the head in 1987, the first completely successful separation of type-2 vertical craniopagus twins in 1997 in South Africa and the first successful placement of an intrauterine shunt for a hydrocephalic twin.
Carson holds more than 60 honorary doctorate degrees and has received hundreds of awards and citations. He sits on the board of directors of numerous organizations, including Kellogg Company, Costco Wholesale Corporation, the Academy of Achievement and is an Emeritus Fellow of the ale Corporation, the governing body of Yale University. He was appointed in 2004 by President George W. Bush to serve on the President’s Council on Bioethics.
He has spoken twice during the President’s National Prayer Breakfast, in 1997 and 2013.
In 2001, Carson was named by CNN and TIME magazine as one of the nation’s 20 foremost physicians and scientists. That same year, he was selected by the Library of Congress as one of 89 “Living Legends” on the occasion of its 200th anniversary. He is also the recipient of the 2006 Spingarn Medal, which is the highest honor bestowed by the NAACP.
In February 2008, Carson was presented with the Ford’s Theatre Lincoln Medal by President Bush at the White House. In June 2008, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by the President, which is the highest civilian honor in the land. In 2009, the award-winning movie, titled “Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story,” starring Cuban Gooding Jr. as Carson, premiered on TNT and is based on his memoir.
Carson is president and co-founder of the Carson Scholars Fund, which recognizes young people of all backgrounds for exceptional academic and humanitarian accomplishments. The Fund is currently operating in 50 states and the District of Columbia, having awarded more than $6.2 million dollars to more than 6,200 scholars. The program also establishes Carson Reading Rooms to encourage young students and their families to discover the pleasure to be found in books and to recognize the true power of learning.
His first four books, Gifted Hands; THINK BIG; The Big Picture; and Take the Risk: Learning to Identify, Choose and Live with Acceptable Risk, provide inspiration and insight for leading a successful life. A fifth book, America The Beautiful: Rediscovering What Made This Nation Great, was released in early 2012 and made The New York Times Best Seller List in 2013. His sixth book, One Nation: What We Can All Do To Save America’s Future, was released in May 2014 and has also made The New York Times Best Seller List. His seventh and latest book, One Vote: Make Your Voice Heard, was released in September 2014.
Carson has been married for over 39 years to his wife, Candy; is the father of three adult sons and has two grandchildren.
‘A Dismal Existence’
Carson said his mother, Sonya, was one of 24 children growing up in rural Tennessee. She never had a stable home and received bits and pieces of education up to the third grade, then nothing more. She married at age 13 to escape that life, and moved with her husband to Detroit in search of a future. Once there, she discovered that her husband was a bigamist with another family, so she was left as a single parent with two young sons to raise.
She moved the family to Boston to live with an older sister and brotherin-law.
“It was a typical tenement,” Carson recalled, “a large multi-family dwelling, boarded up windows and doors, sirens and gangs, murder. I remember seeing people lying on the ground with bullet holes and stab wounds. Both of my older cousins, whom we adored, were killed.
“I remember as a nine-year-old…thinking about my future, thinking I probably wouldn’t live past 25 years of age, because that’s what I saw.
“It was a very dismal existence.” His mother worked two, sometimes three jobs. She would take her sons to the country on the weekend and knock on a farmer’s door, offering to pick four bushels of whatever was growing – three for the farmer and one for her, which she would can. She saved her nickels and dimes, and was so thrifty that “I’m convinced if my mother was secretary of the treasury, we would not have a deficit situation,” Carson quipped.
“The reason she worked so hard was that she didn’t want to be dependent. She was very observant and she noticed that most of the people who went on Welfare never got off it,” he said.
His mother realized her goal of becoming independent and moving back to Detroit, but she had another challenge – two sons who were terrible students.
“I thought I was really stupid, and everyone else agreed,” Carson said. His mother insisted her sons become well-informed and educated, but didn’t know how to accomplish that.
“So she prayed to God and asked God to give her the wisdom to know what to do. That’s the wonderful thing about God; you don’t have to have a Ph.D. to talk to Him, you just have to have faith.
“She had the faith that He would give her the wisdom, and He did – at least in her opinion. My brother and I didn’t think it was wise at all – turning off the TV – what kind of wisdom is that? Making us read two books from the Detroit Public Library every week and submit to her two written book reports – which she couldn’t read, but we didn’t know that.”
Carson said between the covers of those books he found he could escape the poverty he hated; he could go anywhere, be anybody, do anything – there was no limitation as long as you could read and had an imagination. Within a year and a half he moved from the bottom of his class to the top. “I rapidly came to understand that the person who has most to do with what happens to you in life is you – it’s not somebody else. And that meant I didn’t have to live in poverty. That meant I could have any lifestyle I wanted.
“That’s why Candy and I stress education so much. It is the great divide in our nation. It doesn’t matter what a person’s ethnicity or economic background; if they get a good education, they can write their own ticket. That is still the case in America. There are no victims if one avails oneself of those opportunities,” he said.
My Brothers’ Keeper
Carson wove into the story of his life the ideas that he is championing at the national level. Among those is the idea of investing in people to break the cycle of poverty.
“In the ’60s, Lyndon Johnson and his cohorts said ‘we’re going to have a war on poverty, we’re going to fix all these things,’ and they started throwing money at it. But what did those trillions and trillions of dollars do that they threw at the problem? In 1969, 1.4 percent of the population was on food stamps. Today it’s over 14 percent, a 10-fold increase. There’s more poverty, more broken families, more incarceration. Everything this Welfare was supposed to do made things worse, not better.
“So what do intelligent people do? They don’t sit around and just demonize the people that created the failing programs. They use the intellect God has given them to say, ‘what works?’” he said.
Carson described a variety of programs that help people get off the streets, off drugs, into drugs and moving in a positive direction.
“I’m talking about people investing in people,” he said. “This is a way we will solve our problems in this country. We will never solve it with the government just throwing money at it; that will always make the situation worse. What will save us is when we recognize that we are our brothers’ keepers and it is the personal relationships, not just the money, that makes the difference and can save this nation.”
Carson said that doesn’t mean withdrawing all support from everyone, but it does mean that, over the course of time, less people will need that support.
Following are more highlights from the address that had audiences responding with applause or laughter throughout.
“There’s no need to be ashamed of our faith in God,” he said, adding that the phrase “In God We Trust” is on the nation’s money, “Under God” is in the Pledge of Allegiance, and our nation’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence, talks about certain inalienable rights given to us by our Creator, a.k.a. God.
“Why do we have to be ashamed? We need to be able to stand up for who we are. Our president says we are not a Judeo-Christian nation, but he doesn’t get to decide that. We get to decide what kind of nation we are,” Carson said.
Our system of governance is based upon having a well-informed and well-educated populace, and that is a reason our founders were adamant about education, Carson said.
“They recognized that people who are uninformed would not be able to decipher the truth from a lie, and they would be easy to manipulate – they would fall easy prey to dishonest politicians and biased news media. Unfortunately, we see plenty of that today. It’s reached a point where the deception and lies that come from our so-called leaders are expected by the people.
“But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s that way because we accept it…It is time now for the people to re-establish themselves by becoming well-informed and to stand up for what they believe in. That’s what will save America.”
On Political Correctness
“First of all, recognize that we the American people are not each others’ enemies. Those purveyors of division have been very successful in silencing us, in keeping us from talking about issues through the imposition of political correctness, while they change the very fabric and underpinnings of our society, and we’re not even supposed to talk about it. Don’t say anything against whatever is decided to be the politically correct way of saying things.
“There were a lot of people who gave their lives so we could say what we want to say in this country. Are we going to let their sacrifices go to naught and just cower and be silent? I can tell you for sure that’s what the secular progressives want. They don’t care whether you agree with them or not, as long as you keep your mouth shut. And as long as you keep your mouth shut, they can continue to change the fabric of society.”
On the Economy
“We have the highest corporate tax rates in the developed world, and our secretary of the treasury criticizes American companies for doing business overseas. He says ‘you’re trying to avoid our taxes, you’re unpatriotic.’ What an idiotic statement. It means you know nothing about business, you know nothing about capitalism.
“People don’t go into business to support the government. They go into business to make money. So a wise government would obviously do the things that create an environment that’s conducive to entrepreneurial investment, capital investment, risk-taking. Those are the things that created this dynamic economic engine.”
On the American Dream
“America is still a land of dreams. We have a lot of people who denigrate our nation, talk about how evil it is, how we’re behind all the problems in the world, and the things that we’ve done in the past. And yet, we have a lot of people still trying to get in here and not too many people trying to escape. That should tell you something.”
“There is no single leader who can solve our problems. ‘We the People’ are at the pinnacle of power in our nation…
“Now the question is what are we willing to do for those who come behind us, because the baton of freedom now resides within our hands. We are the ones who will make the determination.
“Will we capitulate to secular progressivism, to those who feel that the government is the answer to everything, or will we preserve this as the beacon of freedom for the world, a place where the people are the central focus, where their rights are the central focus, a place where we allow the values and principles that put us on the pinnacle of the world to be the continuing guide for the people we are?
“We must remember, freedom is not free – you have to fight for it every day,” he said. Remember the last stanza of our national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner – land of the free and home of the brave. “You cannot be free if you’re not brave,” he concluded.