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Dr. Ben Carson: The Life-Changing Speech They Didn’t Want You to Hear

April 19, 2013

One of the most respected and currently talked-about men in the world spoke in Memphis on Wednesday night.

A  recipient of the nation’s highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he is also  the possessor of over 50 honorary doctoral degrees.

In 2006, the NAACP conferred upon him its highest honor, the Spingarn Award, putting him in the company of legends and luminaries such as Rosa Parks, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, George Washington Carver, Bill Cosby, Hank Aaron, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Both U.S. News and World Report and the Harvard Center for Public Leadership named him as one of America’s Top Leaders. The Library of Congress included him on their list of “89 Living Legends” marking its 200th anniversary celebration. The list of honors for a lifetime of service goes on and on.

He is an emeritus fellow of the Yale Corporation, the governing body of his alma mater Yale University, and sits on the boards of numerous corporations. He has written four books. His autobiography was made into an HBO movie starring Cuba Gooding.

Google his name and you get 18,300,000 hits. He overcame a childhood of wrenching poverty, failing grades, low self-esteem and self-destructive anger to become a world-famous pediatric neurosurgeon, known for successfully performing procedures believed by his peers to be impossible. His first political speech – just two months ago – was so well received, his presidential prospects have been the subject of hot debate ever since.

pres prayer breakfast

Yes, Dr. Ben Carson came to Memphis on Wednesday, April 17th. He gave a jaw-dropping, life-changing  motivational speech at the University of Memphis. It was free and open to the public, sponsored by the Memphis Urban League  Young Professionals (MULYP) and a new, Memphis-based not-for-profit organization called Inner L.I.G.H.T.

Chances are, you missed it.

Apparently, so did the local mainstream media.  (Although, we did spot a photographer for the Tri-State Defender. We’ll be watching for their coverage.) But the Commercial Appeal? The  Memphis Flyer? The Daily News? Channels 5, 3, 13, or 24 news?  Nada, as far as we could tell.

So, for the third  time in three weeks, Eddie and I found ourselves at  a highly newsworthy event, wondering why there were no “real” reporters around. Just us bloggers. We wrote about the second  of those special events last week; a story covering the first is still in the pipeline. (Hey, we never said Back in River City would be timely. Nobody pays us for this, Kiddo.)

Back to Dr. Carson (whom we have written about before). Gentle Ben, as he has been known to his colleagues. Dr. Ben Carson is simply mind-blowing.

He is an unusual public speaker. Soft-spoken,  eloquent, and a gifted  story-teller,  he lacks the grandiloquence and oratory of a skilled politician. (Asset #1) He speaks with a genuineness and sincerity that are seldom heard  in a nationally prominent speaker. (Asset #2) His story is the American Dream on steroids, powerfully inspiring and heartfelt. (Asset #3) He uses his story to motivate both young and old,  to express his Christian faith and exhort traditional American values, and to inspire independent thought and challenge political assumptions in the African American community.

What? One of those pesky black conservatives? And probably a Republican to boot? No wonder our liberally-skewed local news outlets all but ignored his visit.

As a speaker and a pediatric neurosurgeon, Dr. Ben Carson is fearless. He disdains political correctness. He owns his own brain, his own opinions, and tells black audiences that they should, too.

He speaks truth as he sees it. He unapologetically quotes the Bible (the mark of a true radical of our time).

His message to the young people in the predominately African American audience, which included a number of MCS fourth graders, was to do hard things:

ben carson hs gradBe extraordinary at what you do.

Set goals.  

Refuse to believe you don’t have what it takes to excel.  

Don’t make excuses.

He spoke about his own early academic struggles. As a fifth grader he was at the bottom of his class. He admired the smart kids, but was cruelly called stupid. He believed the taunts to be true.

“There are a  lot of students who don’t realize how smart they are. If you have a normal brain, ” the brain surgeon told them, “you are smart. It’s just a matter of learning how to program that brain and having someone believe in you.”

For Ben Carson, that someone was his mother Sonya. Married at 13, Sonya Carson found herself divorced  with two young sons to support just a few years later. She was illiterate and had only a third sonya carson and bengrade education.  She worked up to three jobs every day as a domestic, leaving at 5:00 a.m. and coming home at midnight.  She refused to accept welfare payments.

“She never felt sorry for herself,”  Dr. Carson recalled. “The problem was, she never felt sorry for us, either. ‘Do you have a brain?’ she’d ask. ‘Well, you could have thought your way out of it.’ She would not accept excuses, so we  eventually began to look for solutions ourselves.

“I strongly advise the parents out there,” he said, “don’t accept excuses. The earlier your children are taught to be responsible, the more successful they will be.”

(When her sons were grown, the irrepressible Sonya Carson went back to school, earned her G.E.D.,  and was later awarded an honorary doctorate. “So now she’s Dr. Carson, too,” her proud son proclaimed.

Ben Carson credits his mother’s strict house rules for his early conversion from television addict to young scholar.  She decided to place radical restrictions on her sons’  TV consumption. To fill the hours gained, she required them to read two books each week and submit written reports to her. (She couldn’t read them, but skillfully kept that knowledge away from Ben and his brother for many years.)

The boys howled in protest and even Mrs. Carson’s friends and family warned that she was being too harsh. Her tough love parenting  bore fruit, however, when young Ben began to read voraciously, and developed a love of learning.  In three years, he was at the top of his class.

His road to success had setbacks. When Dr. Carson was in high school, he succumbed to peer pressure. The universal teenaged compulsion to be cool, popular, and fashion-forward far outranked his desire to achieve  scholastically. He went from an A student to a C student. “In high school,” he said, “peer pressure is the worst thing a young person can experience.” To the fond amusement of the adults in the room, Dr. Carson defined “peers” as “People who Encourage  Errors, Rudeness and Stupidity.”

peer-pressure teen group

Once again, Sonya Carson’s wisdom triumphed. When Ben lobbied his mother for a flashier wardrobe, she turned over her total earnings for him to manage. After paying all the bills for their survival and necessities, she instructed, “with the money left over you can buy all the fancy clothes you want.”

Sonya Carson’s money management skills and selfless sacrifices became quickly apparent when Ben tried to fill her shoes. “I realized that my mother was a financial genius. . . I realized I was a fool.” Ben changed his priorities and starting working hard at school again.

“The guys were calling me ‘nerd,’ ‘Uncle Tom,’ ‘Poindexter,'” he recalled. “But I said back to them, ‘Let’s see what I’m doing in 20 years and what you’re doing in 20 years.’ ”

pres medal

Dr. Carson explained that peer pressure typically comes from bullies and losers, someone who is “not going anywhere (in life) and doesn’t want you to go anywhere, either.”

Political correctness is just the adult version of the same hurtful peer pressure, he continued. “They will say, ‘You can’t say that. You can’t think that’ – especially if you are black.”

There are black people who benefit from applying that kind of pressure to other blacks, he said. These people “will act like they are your friend.” He believes strongly that  “people must  think for themselves” to achieve success.

Dr. Carson peppered his speech with references to his ground-breaking neurosurgical techniques, and used examples of his most daunting surgical cases to illustrate how seemingly impossible odds and problems can be overcome. “It’s not that I’m the smartest,” he said with humility, “but I am someone who can put together a team of great skill and wisdom and utilize the great wisdom of the whole team.”

“Humans have big frontal lobes in their brains,” he noted. The frontal lobes, he explained, allow us to have rational thought processes, to analyze and plan, to strategize. “Animals can’t do this. But people often decide to just react and act like animals instead of planning for our future. We must take advantage of the brains that we have.”

Dr. Carson touched only briefly on his new-found fame in political circles. He acknowledged that liberal pundits are searching for skeletons in his closet to derail his fast-growing popularity as a potential candidate. “They won’t find any because there aren’t any there. So they’ve started just making stuff up,” he said, alluding to the recent kerfuffle over public remarks he made repudiating the rights of  gays to redefine marriage. Misinterpretation of those remarks led to his withdrawal as the graduation day speaker for Johns Hopkins medical school. Dr. Carson has been at Johns Hopkins hospital his entire medical career, heading up the department of pediatric neurosurgery for 25 years.

In his concluding remarks, Dr. Carson urged young people to “Stand up and stop being cowards.  Love your fellow man. Care about your neighbor. Develop your God-given talents and use them to uplift others.” He offered up his THINK BIG acronym, used by his scholarship foundation, as a guiding philosophy for all young people.

T – Use your intellectual talent.

H – Live a clean and honest life. Don’t put skeletons in your closet.

I – Develop insight by listening to those who have gone where you want to go.

N – Be nice to people.

K – Remember that knowledge makes you more valuable.

BBooks are the mechanism for attaining knowledge.

I – Develop in-depth learning skills, not superficial learning.

G – Is for God. Many people are trying to make God politically incorrect. He’s not.

Dr.-Ben-Carson young boy and quote

Dr. Carson and his wife Candy created the Carson Scholarship Fund in 1994 to improve American students’  poor global ranking in math and science. To date, CSF has awarded over 5,600 $1000 college scholarships. CSF also funds the development of reading rooms in public schools to encourage reading and improve literacy.  David Rose, a Carson Scholar and founder of event co-sponsor Inner L.I.G.H.T., ended the evening by presenting awards to four young MCS students who have overcome challenges to achievement. He presented Dr. Carson the Outstanding L.I.G.H.T. award.

Dr. Carson remained to sign his latest book, America the Beautiful: Rediscovering What Made this Country Great.

america the beautiful book

4/19/13 UPDATE: The Tri-State Defender released this article yesterday on Dr. Carson’s visit to Memphis.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. April 19, 2013 10:54 am

    Wow, If I had known Carson was in town I would have had some of my seventh graders there. I would have TAKEN some of my seventh graders. Guess I’ll just have to take his words to them Thanks for sharing, Eve.

    • September 13, 2013 2:13 pm

      I teach Carson’s book Gifted Hands with my seventh graders. Great way to start the school year and a book they really like. Such great lessons for them too.

      • September 15, 2013 12:35 am

        Thanks for your comment, Jen. I believe that Dr. Carson is one of the most inspiring men alive. So much to offer our children!

  2. April 22, 2013 5:00 pm

    Beautifully written Eve! The day will come when all thinking Americans will acknowledge this already great man’s ability to help guide our country’s future.

    • April 22, 2013 8:42 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Mary Lou. I hope Dr. Carson’s message is allowed to be heard throughout the U.S. The Democratic Party and MSM are certainly trying to squelch his voice.

  3. April 22, 2013 6:16 pm

    Dr. Carson is a very impressive individual with a fascinating story to tell. His values are laudable. I came to these opinions long ago, when I first heard (via WYPL Radio) and then read his book “Healing Hands.”

    Might I suggest this blog begin a listing of upcoming events so those who follow it might know about such opportunities that come to your attention regardless of mainstream media coverage?

    • April 22, 2013 8:45 pm

      Thanks for the comment and the idea about listing events. We heard about Dr. Carson’s speech only hours beforehand, but a listing is something to think about.

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