The City of Charleston was the site of national politics last week hosting debates by both major political parties, sponsoring fund-raisers large and small, and providing venues for “meet and greet” opportunities with candidates vying for a Presidential nomination. The Historic Rotary Club of Charleston had its own political event when Dr. Ben Carson, one of the Republican candidates for the nomination, spoke at our lunch meeting. Rotarian Charlie Palmer introduced Dr. Carson and briefly reviewed his extensive, remarkable resume. Highlights of an internationally acclaimed life and career include winning the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2008 (the highest civilian award given in the US), being recognized by the Library of Congress in 2001 as one of 89 “Living Legends,” and being awarded 67 honorary doctoral degrees. As the first neurosurgeon to successfully separate conjoined twins, Dr. Carson is one of the most well-known physicians in the country and around the world. He has written 6 books, one of which, Gifted Hands became a bestselling book and was made into a movie.
Addressing our membership, Dr. Carson began his remarks down-playing his illustrious life by noting that his resume also included early work as a bus driver, lab technician, and other unglamorous jobs to help pay for his education. His upbringing was managed by a single mom who struggled to take care of her two sons and insisted that he and his brother prioritize their homework and read 2 books a week. His mother’s discipline and focus on education provided the learning experiences that led to Dr. Carson’s love of science and medicine. He was an outstanding student in the medical studies he pursued at Yale University, the University of Michigan School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins University. Years after completing his internship at Johns Hopkins, a 33-year old Dr. Carson returned as Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, the youngest U.S. physician to ever hold such a position.
With all of his success and celebrity, Dr. Carson said that he is often asked why he would “get involved in the slimy work of politics.” The answer lies in his dedication to the lives, health and opportunities of children, a love that has successfully affected thousands of children globally. The other driver leading to Dr. Carson’s entrance in the political arena is his consternation over “what’s happening to our country.” Noting that Martin Luther King Day was celebrated on Monday, Dr. Carson reminded his audience that Dr. King was not content to “do nothing” when he also saw conditions that were harmful and unfair to people. But it is not easy to “be the someone” who tries to change those conditions and those who try are often hated and ridiculed. By entering the social and political fray of racism, the effort to make an impact “cost Dr. King his life.” Also contributing to Dr. Carson’s decision to leave an academic life and pursue politics is his deep spirituality and commitment to Christianity. Dr. Carson pointed out that another courageous change agent, Jesus Christ, also worked to make a positive impact in an environment he felt was damaging to all, especially children. He, too, paid with his life. Rather than focusing on their deaths, however, Dr. Carson spoke of how the lives and work of these two extraordinarily kind and peace-loving people did, indeed, have a profound impact on the world. These two examples inspired Dr. Carson to “do something” to change the course of America.
Dr. Carson said he worries that America has become a place where “Americans don’t take care of Americans.” He posed the question “Are we really people who hate each other? Why is there so much racial, religious, gender and intergenerational hatred? We didn’t used to be that way.” Invoking another great man, Dr. Carson reminded us that a house divided against itself cannot stand and “we cannot continue to allow the purveyors of hate to guide our country.” He believes that as a “pinnacle nation we must lead, and lead in a way that inspires confidence” against existential threats like ISIS.
In response to Rotarian questions, Dr. Carson stressed that “unity is our strength and we must emphasize what we have in common” not what divides us. No matter his world-renowned profession or degree of success, Dr. Carson’s believes that he “won the lottery” simply because he was “born in the United States and knows the Lord.”
The Historic Rotary Club of Charleston was honored to have Dr. Carson share his time and thoughts with us. Clearly, Dr. Ben Carson has a message to relay to the people of the United States and he hopes to do it as the Republican nominee for the Presidency.
Contributed by Cheryl Kinard, Keyway Committee