David is honored to welcome Dr. Benjamin Carson to the podcast. Dr. Carson is a groundbreaking neurosurgeon who served as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 2017 to 2021. Currently, he’s the Chairman of the American Cornerstone Institute, an organization founded with the purpose of building unity throughout this country based on founding principles of Faith, Liberty, Life, and Community. He is the author of several books, including his latest, Created Equal: The Painful Past, Confusing Present, and Hopeful Future of Race in America. In part one, Dr. Carson shares the impact that faith has had on his life, common-sense solutions to address underserved communities, and why resilience outweighs victimhood. Dr. Carson exclusively shares with us his views and experiences upon reflection of certain key teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King.
I’m honored to be joined this week by Dr. Ben Carson. Ben is a groundbreaking neurosurgeon who served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 2017 to 2021. You might recall he was also a candidate for president in the 2016 Republican primaries. Currently, he’s the chairman of the American Cornerstone Institute and an author of several books, including his new and most timely book Created Equal. Mr. Secretary, Dr. Carson, welcome to the podcast.
Thank you. I’m delighted to be with you.
In your books Gifted Hands and Created Equal, you shared some of your humble beginnings and background arising from poverty in Detroit and Boston, including incidents of clear racism with threats to schooling, playing football and honors received. You also mentioned how you were able to get some surprising mystical and extraordinary gifts and note after falling asleep traveling with your wife Candy going 90 miles an hour in a car earlier in your life and how dreaming helped you through a key test while at Yale in addition as well as the difficult surgeries and political tasks. On faith, Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Trouble will come upon you. Disappointment will rain on your door like a tidal wave. If you don’t have a deep and patient faith, you ain’t going to make it.” How important has faith been in your life and how has it navigated you through such as these difficult situations into becoming the expert worldwide neurosurgeon that handled conjoined twins and other extraordinarily difficult situations?
I would dare say that I couldn’t do any of that without the incredible faith that has brought me through so many trials. I harken back to the fact that I had a horrible temper and I would just go fly off the handle and want to seek revenge, and harm people regardless of the consequences. It was after such an incident where I tried to stab another teenager with a camping knife that I was locked in a bathroom and I was thinking about my life. I turned things around academically very significantly but I knew I would never achieve my dream of becoming a doctor with a temper like that. I would end up in jail, reform school, or the grave. And I just said, “Lord, I can’t control my temper.” And there was a bible there and I picked it up and there were all these verses in the book of Proverbs about anger and also about fools and it all seemed like they were written about me.
For three hours, I prayed and contemplated and read and it dawned on me during that time, it was always about me. Me, my and I. Somebody did this to me, they took my thing, I want this. I said, “If you learn how to step out of the center of the equation, let it be about somebody else, you won’t be angry.” That was the last day I had an angry outburst. And I recognized at that point God was real. He was more than somebody you learned about in church. And it really changed my life and I began to really depend on him at that point in time. And it’s been something that has gotten me through so many trials.
When I was a first-year medical student I did poorly on the first set of comprehensive exams and I was sent to see my counselor who said, “You seem like a very intelligent young man. I bet there’s a lot you could do outside of medicine.” He tried to convince me to drop out of medical school. He said I wasn’t cut out for medicine and I would just torment myself and everybody else and they could help me get into another discipline. The only thing I’d wanted to do was be a doctor since I was eight years old. I started thinking, “What kind of courses have you always done well in? And what kind of courses have you struggled in?” And I realized I did very well in courses where I did a lot of reading and I struggled in courses where I listened to a lot of boring lectures because I don’t get anything out of boring lectures. Nothing at all. And yet, there I was six to eight hours a day sitting in boring lectures.
So, I made an executive decision to skip the boring lectures and to spend that time reading and the rest of medical school was a snap after that. And some years later when I was back at my medical school as a commencement speaker I was looking for that counselor because I was going to tell him he wasn’t cut out to be a counselor. So many people are just negative, negative, negative. They never seem to be able to figure out a positive thing to say.
Thanks for sharing that positive, transformative experience due to your great faith. As you mentioned on life, Martin Luther King discussed the three dimensions of a complete life and the onward push fulfillment, helping others, and the upward reach for God. Dr. King preached loving your enemies with agape and finding what’s good in your enemies and finding what’s wrong with yourself on the road of being judged by your content, your character, and not your skin color. He spoke about even in prison finding out how much white jail guards made and they should perhaps join his movement.
You said that in America we valued each individual as a unique being someone who can bring a special perspective to the table so we can work together to come up with common sense solutions to problems and believe that we’ve progressed to a point where many African American businesses, political, doctors and other professionals and trades where people are more open-minded about each other and believe that people are, indeed, created equal. Can you kindly comment on certain common sense solutions that you have been involved with to address underserved communities and then improve lives as well as other key lessons learned from your career?
Yeah. One of the things that have been very important to me is the whole concept of self-sufficiency. And that was really the reason that I wanted to take the job as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. There were so many things that were built into the system that kept people dependent. I worked very hard to enhance and improve and expand programs that would lead to self-sufficiency so that when people, for instance, made more money on the job instead of having to report that so that your rent would go up, you’d report it but instead of the rent going up the extra money could go into an escrow and over the course of a few years, you might be able to accumulate enough for a down payment on your own house.
Homeownership is the principal mechanism of wealth accumulation in this country. The average net worth of a renter is $5,000. The average net worth of a homeowner is $200,000. It’s a 40-fold difference and, in many cases, we’re talking about the same money that is used to either be squandered or to go into creating that nest egg. Those are the kind of things that really make a difference in people’s lives. We’ve worked very hard to create the Carson Scholar’s Fund in which we recognize students from all backgrounds who achieve at the highest academic levels and also who care about other people. You have to do both. We give them rewards, including scholarships as early as the fourth grade so that the other kids look at them and instead of, “That old nerd”, “Wow, that kid has a scholarship. He’s only in the fourth or fifth grade. What the heck did he do?” A lot of teachers tell us other kids start trying harder at that point.
We also put in reading rooms and that’s absolutely critical. There are over 260 of them now around the country, primarily in Title One schools where a lot of the kids come from homes with few or no books. They go to schools that don’t have a budget of significance for libraries. Those kids are not likely to become readers but you put these incredible rooms in their school with all kinds of fascinating books, the rooms are decorated frequently in a way that’s consistent with the area where they’re from. For instance, one that’s near the NASA site is decorated like a space capsule. You look through one window you see the earth. Another one, you see the moon. Another one, you see ET.
And the kids just love these places and they get points for the number of books they read and they can trade them in for prizes. But in the beginning, they’re interested in the prizes but it doesn’t take long before that begins to affect their academic achievement. And many studies have shown us that if a child is reading a grade level by grade three it changes the trajectory of their lives. That’s what it’s really all about. We’re made in the image of God. Tremendous potential. But it has to be directed correctly.
I appreciate the thoughtful introspection. Turning to systematic racism, you stand by taking every incident of perceived racial discrimination and magnifying it, repeating it incessantly, the case for systematic racism is made. The guilt and shame is done to manipulate the public. Could you then please explain for our listeners as to why there are calls there for systemic racism, Black and minority victimization and critical race theory, and related calls to defund rather than support the police?
Well, it really doesn’t make a lot of sense to defund the police under any circumstances but you take something like the George Floyd incident, it was repeated incessantly to the point that we have some friends who live in Australia and we talked to them and they said, “What’s happening? The police are killing all the Black men over there.” You would think that was going on from what you were seeing when, in fact, the actual number of unarmed Black men who are killed by police in a year according to that paragon of conservative thought The Washington Post is less than two dozen a year, closer to one dozen.
Any number is, obviously, a tragedy but it’s nowhere near what people think. And in a lot of surveys where you go out and ask people how many they killed, they’re talking 100s, maybe 1,000, and its nothing like that. By magnifying it, and talking about it all the time, you make it seem that way. That is something that is really a responsibility of the news media. Instead of reporting the news in an unbiased way like you’re supposed to, they pick sides and try to manipulate people, forgetting that the reason that they’re the only business protected by a constitution is that they are supposed to report unbiased information to the people so that the people could decide what their will was because the country was to be run on the will of people, not on the will of some monarch or some ruling body.
Along those lines, you said rather than blaming everything in systematic racism, our failings cities should consider appropriate support for law enforcement and investment in education, especially in economically deprived areas. Can you expand a little further on that?
First of all, recognize that if we don’t have law enforcement we have total chaos. Can you imagine what it would be like to live in a society where there are no police? Someone would just come into your house and say, “I like that flat-screen TV. I think I’m going to take it.” Better still, “I like your house. You get out. I’ll take it.” It would be whoever is the strongest and the meanest would be the ruler. That’s like the way it is in the wild jungle. So, obviously, we need these people.
Are there good ones and bad ones? Of course. The vast majority of them are good but there are rotten apples in every profession. Medicine, journalism, teaching, and law. Whatever. There are always rotten apples. When it happens in law enforcement, we seem to be very quick to generalize as opposed to recognizing that they’re just bad apples in other areas and that’s something that obviously needs to change. We also need to work with the police in terms of understanding the best and safest ways of law enforcement. I talk in the book Created Equal about some of the new technologies that have been developed, such as the BolaWrap, which shoots a web-like material very rapidly and wraps somebody up sort of like a spiderweb and they’re immobilized. They can’t do anything. It is a heck of a lot better than shooting them and it’s much more effective than tazing them.
We need to continue to develop these kinds of things, deploy them and use them so that we don’t have these situations where people end up being shot like the young man in Atlanta who was running away from the police and was killed from behind. That was completely unnecessary and certainly, if he’d had the BolaWrap it wouldn’t have happened at all.
You said, “When I look at Black youths, we are among minorities who stand on our own two feet and refuse to look to anyone else to save us.” Kind of tough, isn’t it?
I guess I grew up in a tough environment. I had a mother who never accepted excuses. Anytime an excuse came out of our mouth the next thing out of her mouth was a poem called Yourself to Blame. And the next question after that was, “Do you have a brain?” And if the answer was yes, then you could have thought your way out of it. It doesn’t matter what John or Susan or Mary or Steven or anybody else said or did. And when you grow up in that kind of environment, you’re not an excuse maker; you’re a solution finder. And that’s what we have to teach people. There’s a reason that you have these incredible brains. Billions and billions of neurons. Hundreds of billions of interconnections. The ability to remember everything you have ever seen or heard. The ability to process more than two million bits of information in one second. With something like that, you don’t need to be looking for excuses. You need to be looking for solutions. How do you solve this problem?
And then when it comes to racism, my mother had an incredible philosophy. She would say, “If you walk into an auditorium full of racist, bigoted people, you don’t have a problem; they have a problem because they’re all going to cringe and wonder if you’re going to sit next to them whereas you can sit anywhere you want. With a philosophy like that, you just move forward and any obstacle you see, it becomes a hurdle. You jump over it and it makes you stronger for the next one.
Is that how you grew your view, of how resilience outweighs victim hood?
Absolutely. We all get to make a choice. We can choose whether we’re going to be victims or whether we’re going to be victors. It is completely a matter of your philosophy and the way that you think and it makes a really big difference in terms of what happens to you in life.
You mentioned and referred to the Brookings Institute that if incidents of poverty are in the three percent range if you finish high school, get married, and wait to have kids until getting married and get a job. Would you be kind enough to expand on this?
Dr. Ben Carson:
Those are things that we used to know. That was a time when you didn’t require the Brookings Institute or some other institute to actually spell it out and do research. Obviously, finish high school. Get your basic educational foundation so that you can function in society. So that you can read and fill out an application. So that you can understand basic instructions. So that you can communicate well with other people. That’s essential for success. Get married, and have a foundation. A strong, family foundation is a huge advantage for virtually anything that you’re ever going to do. Having people that you can trust and people that you can count on. And waiting til you’re married to have children. Basically, what that saying is learning to plan rather than just to react to things.
Obviously, that’s going to be better for you. It’s going to be a lot better for the children. We were married for eight years before we had our first child. Why? Because we got married after my second year in medical school and I still had two more years of medical school and several years of residency. And the kids wouldn’t have known me. They would have said, “Mommy, that strange man was here again.” That’s no good, so we waited until I was finished with my residency before we had children. God gives us the ability to plan those things out.
Planning certainly can make a tremendous difference. Turning to liberty, you mentioned concerns with media and big tech. You noted the shining moment with the media aiding Dr. King on the Civil Rights Movement but now our big threats to liberty with tyranny …
The media was extremely helpful during the Civil Rights period because people didn’t know what was going on and they wouldn’t have believed it if you had just said it. But they were actually able to see it. They were actually able to see those water hoses turned on children and dogs attacking people and people being brutally beaten. It makes a difference. If you have a heart at all, realize that these people are only trying to have basic human rights and then you have all these people doing everything they can to prevent that from happening. That changes public opinion very, very rapidly. And kudos to the news media for being involved in that.
But now they’ve decided instead of just reporting the news, let’s try to formulate people’s opinions around what we believe is the right way. And they’ve accepted a very left-wing agenda about who we are as a nation; that we’re evil, that we’re systemically racist or that we’re unfair to people, and that the world is going to end because of global climate change and all of these things. And they’re advocating and pushing these things when, in fact, it’s not true. Have we always been a perfect nation? No. No nation has.
No nation that’s inhabited by human beings because human beings are imperfect. That’s why we need a savior. But when you look at the good, the bad and the ugly of America and American history did a lot more good than it is bad and ugly. But some people, including much of the news media, tend to focus on the bad and ugly of slavery and things of that nature and say that we’re uniquely evil because that existed here when, in fact, slavery existed on nearly every continent with every civilization. The thing that makes me unique is we had so many people that were vehemently against it that we fought a bloody Civil War and lost a large portion of our population to get rid of it.
As far as global warming is concerned or global cooling or global change, you can call it whatever you want to try to fit the ideology. When the environment stops changing, that’s when we all die.
ABOUT BEN CARSON
Dr. Carson is Founder and Chairman of the American Cornerstone Institute, a new think tank / do tank whose mission is to promote the 4 founding principles which are cornerstones of our country: faith, liberty, community, and life as well as pursue common sense solutions that challenge conventional groupthink. He most recently served as the 17th Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
For nearly 30 years, Dr. Carson served as Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, a position he assumed when he was just 33 years old, becoming the youngest major division director in the hospital’s history. In 1987, he successfully performed the first separation of craniopagus twins conjoined at the back of the head. He also performed the first fully successful separation of type-2 vertical craniopagus twins in 1997 in South Africa.
Dr. Carson received dozens of honors and awards in recognition of his achievements including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. He is also a recipient of the Spingarn Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and has been awarded over 70 honorary doctorate degrees. The U.S. News Media Group and Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership named him among “America’s Best Leaders” in 2008.
Dr. Carson and his wife, Candy Carson, co-founded the Carson Scholars Fund, which recognizes young people of all backgrounds for exceptional academic and humanitarian accomplishments. The organization has awarded more than 10,000 scholars and more than $8 million in scholarships. Carson Scholars is currently operating in 50 states and the District of Columbia, and since its founding, has installed more than 250 Ben Carson Reading Rooms around the country.
Born in Detroit to a single mother with a 3rd grade education who worked multiple jobs to support their family, Dr. Carson was raised to love reading and education. He has authored many books, four of which he co-wrote with his wife Candy. Recently, Dr. Carson wrote his first children’s book, Why America Matters, to teach kids about our important American values.
Dr. Carson graduated from Yale University and earned his M.D. from the University of Michigan Medical School. He and his wife are proud parents and grandparents.
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