The Ben Carson I Remember

The Ben Carson I Remember November 8, 2015

Gifted HandsI met Dr. Benjamin Carson back in, oh, about 1990. He was younger then (and of course, so was I). The first edition of his book Gifted Hands had just come out and he was a hometown hero in Detroit, where I was working at evangelical Christian radio station WMUZ-FM.

Back then, a campaign for the Presidency wasn’t even a twinkle in his eye. He was a neurosurgeon, and a good one. He was a man of faith, and a devoted son.

At the time Carson came to the WMUZ studios for an interview with then-evangelical pastor Al Kresta, he didn’t actually live in Detroit. He was already a successful neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he had just led a team of 70 skilled surgeons and medical professionals who successfully separated conjoined twins. The twins–seven-month-old Patrick and Benjamin Binder from Ulm, Germany–were joined at the skull; or more specifically, at the sagittal superior sinus, a critical vein which drains blood from the brain as well as cerebrospinal fluid. Twins joined at this complicated location rarely survive past their second birthday; so Carson’s high-tech solution offered at least the hope of a longer life for the two boys.

The delicate surgery was a success, and the Binder twins live normal lives today. Dr. Carson went on to participate in several other groundbreaking separation surgeries, and performed the first successful surgery on a child still in the womb.

*     *     *     *     *

In Gifted Hands, Dr. Carson tells the story of the Binder surgery–but also of the preparatory years, his years growing up in Detroit, in an impoverished community and with a mother who was loving but who lacked the education to help her boys to become successful.

Sitting in our studio that day, Ben Carson looked back with fondness at his years growing up in a ghetto community while his mother struggled, sometimes working three jobs as a domestic servant to put food on the table. But what Sonja lacked in education, she made up for in determination: She was determined that her sons would be successful in school.

You see, Sonja Carson couldn’t read. Her son Ben didn’t know that at the time, though. Sonja was often at work when her sons returned home from school in the afternoon; but sheCarson’s mother imposed a restriction on her sons: While their friends played basketball in the streets of Detroit, he and his brother would do homework and read. They were required to read two books per week, and then write book reports. He smiled as he told us that she’d put red checkmarks on the handwritten reports, sometimes circling a passage. She didn’t want him to realize that she couldn’t really understand what he’d written.

So it was that Sonja Carson, a single mother raising her boys in the inner city, engendered in young Benjamin the love of books, and in the bold adventures they promised. She paved the way to an academic career that took him from Detroit to a career as director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, to the stage at the Republican presidential debate.

*     *     *      *     *

In 2009, Carson’s biographical Gifted Hands  was made into a TNT movie starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. The movie has been shown in schools, churches and on the Black Entertainment Television network (BET). It’s been released on DVD and streams on Netflix. The Daily Caller tells that story; but one part in particular caught my attention:

“There’s too much God in it,” Ben Carson remembers someone telling him.

Filming had already started on the TNT movie about his life, “Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story,” when one of the major sponsors suggested toning down some parts about his Christian faith. There were concerns about alienating a general audience.

“I just said, ‘No problem, you can take it out,’” Carson recalled in a recent interview with The Daily Caller. “‘But take me out too, because it won’t be about me.’”

“And then they backed off.”

*     *     *     *     *

Will I be voting for Ben Carson for President?

Well, if he is the candidate who stands next year against the likes of Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, yes I will! But today, even as his poll numbers are rising, Carson stands among a field of pro-life conservatives who are worth considering. Over the next few months, one candidate will rise above the others and will emerge to represent the Republican Party next November. The candidates still have much to say, and they deserve our attention as they clarify their positions on issues of domestic and international import. I am not endorsing a single candidate at this time.

But having said that, I hasten to add that Benjamin Carson is one of the candidates whose strength of character qualifies him for consideration, in my view. The kerfuffle about Politico’s hit campaign and the pyramids in Egypt–well, those are merely media distractions. Carson has proven effective in medical science; he has less experience in politics, but that seems both a negative and a positive. He’s smart enough to learn, and to solicit advice from others when needed.

I continue to watch, and continue to pray that our nation will soon have the leader we need. I don’t yet know who that will be.

I’d appreciate your comments on the Carson candidacy and on others in the field; but respectful comments only, please. Name-calling and disrespectful comments will be deleted, and the originators will be blocked.


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  • Dave Snyder

    I too have read “Gifted Hands” and the story is amazing. Ben Carson had every reason to fail in life and be a victim but he did just the opposite and a lot of his success is because of his wonderful mother. I could vote for him for president because of his character, virtue and supreme intelligence. We have had enough of the Washington elites. It is time for a non politician. He can surround himself with enough people to handle whatever comes his way. He just needs to make the decisions.

  • Dave Armstrong

    He grew up about two-three miles from where I did, in southwest Detroit.

    I was quite tickled the other night when he mentioned “Wilson Jr. High” on O’Reilly. I went there, too: about six years later, though.

    Thanks for your reflections.

  • He’s a great story and seems like a wonderful person. If he’s the republican nominee I will vote for him, but I don’t feel he has the political experience. He’s not my pick in the primary. But good luck to him.

  • AnneG

    Ben Carson is a wonderful surgeon, an accomplished man, and a dedicated Christian. I trust his judgment and commitment and would vote for him. But, surgeons know how to run an OR and, maybe a practice. In a parliamentary system I’m sure he would be very successful but our system of government requires a different skill set.
    I would vote for him over any of the Ds, but I think his expertise might be better used elsewhere.

  • captcrisis

    We hear this every election cycle about some Republican or other — “he doesn’t know how to do the job, lacks some basic information, but he will have good advisors around him”.

    In the past, this kind of on-the-job training hasn’t worked out well. Particularly if the advisors aren’t that good, or are pushing their own agendas and the President in question isn’t knowledgeable enough to recognize it.

    Certainly there has to be a limit as to how pervasive a candidate’s ignorance can be before even the most fervent admirers will have second thoughts. If a man really thinks that the Pyramids were grain elevators, will he be able to listen to an advisor who says that trillions should *not* be spent on missions to Mars over one who says yes we should, there’s vegetation there that can cure cancer?

    • kathyschiffer

      I think he’s got a real start over the community organizer from Chicago who won’t release his college transcripts.

      • OverlappingMagisteria

        I haven’t been following that one much… what’s the deal with Obama’s college transcripts? What are people expecting to find there that makes it such a big deal?

        If we found out that he failed all his classes, then that might be kind of interesting… although you could just easily say that he obviously turned his life around just like how Dr. Carson turned his life around from when he was a youth.

      • captcrisis

        Carson won’t release his college transcripts either. Did you see him yesterday on “Meet the Press”?

        Neither would Romney, McCain, Palin, Kerry, or George W. Bush.

        • kathyschiffer

          How did a poor student from Occidental, an average non-Ivy League college, transfer into Columbia in the first place? Columbia only accepts a handful of transfers and those are always “the best of the best” scholars from the top of their classes at Harvard, Yale or Princeton. Clearly Obama didn’t meet that standard.

          Why are Obama’s college records sealed? Did they show bad behavior? Was he caught using drugs? Were his grades terrible?

          One possibility is that Obama beat the long odds of being accepted for transfer into Columbia by claiming status as an Indonesian “foreign student.”
          See more:

          • captcrisis

            You’ve derailed the thread. Let’s just discuss the general observation I made with my comment.

  • Lady Bird

    I think we have become used the muck that permeates our society, that when an intelligent, articulate, sincere man wishes to serve, people just can’t believe he is for real. I am willing to give him a chance because I know that Hillary or Bernie will finish the job of destroying American values and our constitution. America will never be the same with Democrats at the wheel.