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If you like Ben Carson's story, you might also like:
Maya Angelou,
Keith Black,
Denton Cooley,
Paul Farmer,
Coretta Scott King,
Wendy Kopp,
John Lewis,
Rosa Parks,
Colin Powell,
Oliver Sacks,
Thomas Starzl,
Herschel Walker
and Oprah Winfrey

Ben Carson can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Ben Carson also appears in the videos:
The Health of America: Individual Responsibility
The Arts, Sciences & Creativity
Advocacy and Citizenship: Speaking Out for Others

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Ben Carson in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Advocacy & Citizenship
The Power of Words

Related Links:
Carson Scholars
Johns Hopkins

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Benjamin Carson
Benjamin Carson
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  Benjamin Carson

What were some of the books that you particularly liked as a kid?

Benjamin Carson: Actually, in the beginning, it was all animal books, like Chip the Dam Builder. It was about a beaver and the adventures of this incredible beaver. But you know, Call of the Wild, Becky's Thunder Egg. And, then there were a lot of books that weren't necessarily story books, but they were fact books like Reptiles of the Serengeti or things like that and that was really neat because I learned so much about animals that whenever the science teacher brought up anything that even remotely is -- I was Johnny on the spot. I had the answer. And within a matter of a year and a half, I went from the bottom of the class to the top of the class, much to the consternation of all those students who used to tease me and call me names. The same ones were coming to me and they'd say, "Benny, Benny, Benny, how do you work this problem," and I'd say, "Sit at my feet, youngster, while I instruct you." I was perhaps a little obnoxious, but it sure did feel good to say that to those turkeys.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

I just went on from there.

Once I recognized that I had the ability to pretty much map out my own future based on the choices that I made and the degree of energy that I put into it, life was wonderful at that point. I used to hate my life up until that point because I hated being poor. I hated the environment. But, once I came to that realization, I didn't hate it anymore. It's sort of like if I said to you, "Put your foot in that ice bucket." You would hate to do that, but if you knew you could take it right back out, it wouldn't be such a chore. So, I saw my situation then as being temporary, knowing that I had full power to change it and that completely changed my outlook.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

Benjamin Carson Interview Photo
Did you have brothers and sisters?

Benjamin Carson: I had an older brother, Curtis. He's a couple of years older than me, and he had to go through the same things that I went through, but he had a similar experience. He became extremely academically inclined and is now a manager for Honeywell in the aircraft landing division.

You obviously had extraordinary support from your mother. The situation can't have been easy for your mother, on her own, with little of her own resources and no man to help her. How did she instill in you this confidence in your own ability?

Benjamin Carson: My mother was a person who would never accept an excuse from my brother or myself. It didn't matter what the situation was. If you came with an excuse, she would always say, "Do you have a brain?" And if the answer was yes, then you had a way to get around it. Maybe you should use the brain. That was her point. After a while it became clear to us that no excuse was acceptable, so we became pretty creative.

How did she support the family?

Benjamin Carson: My mother worked as a domestic, two, sometimes three jobs at a time because she didn't want to be on welfare. She felt very strongly that if she gave up and went on welfare, that she would give up control of her life and of our lives, and I think she was probably correct about that. And, so she worked very hard. Sometimes we didn't see her for several days at a time, because she would go to work at five in the morning and get back after 11:00 p.m., going from one job to the next. But, one thing that she provided us was a tremendous example of what hard work is like, and she was also extremely thrifty. She would go to the Goodwill, she'd get a shirt that had a hole and put a patch on it and put another one on the other side to make it look symmetrical, and she sewed her own clothes. She would take us out in the country on a Sunday and knock on a farmer's door and say, "Can we pick four bushels of corn, three for you and one for us?" and they were always glad at that deal. And she'd come home and she'd can the stuff, so that we would have food. She was just extremely thrifty and managed to get by that way. No one ever could quite figure out how she was able to do what she did. She would drive a car until it fell apart, and then she would buy a new car because she saved every dime and every nickel, stuck it under the mattress, and when it came time, years later, to buy a new car, she could do it. And, the neighbors said "What is it with this woman? What is she doing?" Because our mother was a very attractive woman and they figured, you know, she was selling her body and doing all kinds of things like that. But in fact, she had to endure that kind of ridicule, as well as work extremely hard. But, she figured it would pay off in the long run.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

Is she still living?

Benjamin Carson Interview Photo
Benjamin Carson: Yes. She is alive and well. In fact, she lives with us. She has her own floor. We have quite a large house, so she lives on the top floor, and she does a lot of gardening. She goes and comes as she pleases. She has her own car, and she's also involved in restoring antique furniture, and just sitting back, relaxing and enjoying her life.

How important do you think that early family environment is? You started to talk about your classmates and other kids, how important are they?

Benjamin Carson: The more solid the family foundation, the more likely you are to be able to resist peer pressure. Human beings are social creatures. We all want to belong, we all have that desire, and we will belong, one way or another. If the family doesn't provide that, the peers will, or a gang will, or you will find something to belong to. That's why it becomes so critical for families with young children to understand what a critical anchor they are.

So, if your mother hadn't been the kind of person she was, what would have happened to you?

Benjamin Carson: Bad things. No question about it. I know I wouldn't be sitting here at the Academy of Achievement, that's for sure. There's an excellent chance that I wouldn't even be alive, considering the large number of individuals in my high school graduating class who are dead already.

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This page last revised on Apr 18, 2012 20:39 EDT
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