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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

We've also read that you had to overcome a terrible temper.

Benjamin Carson: I had an incredibly horrible temper. I was one of those people who thought they had a lot of rights, and of course, the more rights you think you have, the more likely someone is to infringe upon them. And I did get into fights, I would injure people. I tried to hit my mother in the head with a hammer. I would just become irrational because I would get so angry. It all culminated one day when --

Another youngster angered me, and I had a large camping knife and I tried to stab him in the abdomen, and fortunately he had on a large metal belt buckle under his clothing and the knife blade struck with such force that it broke and he fled in terror. But, I was more terrified as I recognized that I was trying to kill somebody over nothing. This was after I had turned my grades around. I was an A student at that time, but I realized at that moment that with a temper like that, my options were three: reform school, jail or the grave. None of the options appealed to me. So, I just locked myself up in the bathroom and I started praying and I said, "Lord, I can't deal with this temper." And, I picked up my Bible and I started reading from the Book of Proverbs. That was the first day that I started doing it, and I've been doing it every day since then because it had all these verses in it about anger, and it seemed like they were all applicable to me. And, while I was there, I had a revelation and that revelation was that the reason I was always angry is because I was always in the center of the equation. So, just step out of the center of the equation and then everything won't be directed at you, and then you won't be angry, and also, you'll be able to look at things from other people's points of view. Also, where I lived, you know, it was sort of like a macho thing. You get angry, you kick down the wall and punch in the window and it makes you into a big man. But, I came to understand that when you react like that, it actually is a sign of weakness because it means that other people and the environment can control you, and I decided that I didn't want to be that easily controlled. And, I've never had another problem with temper since that day.

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There were so many verses in the Book of Proverbs about anger. If you get an angry man out of trouble you're just going to wind up doing it again, because anger is always going to have him in trouble. And "A man who can control his temper is mightier than a man who can conquer a city." If people can make you angry, they can control you. So, why do you want to give up control to every little insignificant person walking along?

From that point on, I found it much more interesting to watch people try to make me angry, knowing that they weren't going to succeed. I almost made a game out of it. I was able to take myself out of the center of the equation, to look at things from other people's perspective, not to feel that all the rights belong to you. Once you can do that, the things that make you angry become few and far between.

In addition to your mother, were there teachers that were important to you along the way?

Benjamin Carson: I definitely had some teachers who were important.

My fifth grade science teacher, Mr. Jake, was really the first teacher to express confidence in my academic abilities because I was the only person who could identify a rock, which was obsidian and it was because of the reading that I had been doing because after I got through with the animal books, I went to plants, and when I finished all the plant books, I went to rocks because we lived on the railroad tracks and there were a lot of rocks, so I became an expert in geology, and this was while I was still a dummy in the class. So, it was like the first time that I had an opportunity to raise my hand and demonstrate my knowledge because nobody else knew the answer. Everybody was absolutely flabbergasted, but Mr. Jake said to me, "Benjamin, that's incredible." He said, "Why don't you come by the laboratory after school and we can talk about starting a rock collection for you." And, from there I started going to the laboratory every day, getting involved with feeding the squirrel, a red squirrel named Maynard. There was a tarantula, crayfish, a Jack Dempsey fish and I got involved in all this stuff. There was a microscope and I started looking at water specimens and learned all about paramecium and volvox and amoebas, and it was just incredible. That really was what started me on my way.

And then later on in high school, Mr. McConnor, the biology teacher. I started working for him after school, setting up laboratory experiments. I got a lot of extra tutoring from him, and from Mr. Jordan in chemistry, and Mr. Green in physics.

What high school?

Benjamin Carson: This was at Southwestern High School in inner city Detroit. Most of the classroom period was spent with disciplinary problems, so nobody was learning anything. So I got a lot of extra tutoring afterward. And then there was Ms. Miller, the English teacher, who helped me tremendously, mostly by making me feel guilty any time I deviated from the path.

I have read that there was a teacher along the way who had a racist attitude about your achievement. Can you talk about that?

Benjamin Carson: Yes. In the fifth grade, I was at the bottom of the class. By seventh grade I was at the top of the class, same kids.

In the eighth grade, I was still at the top of the class and they would give a certificate out at the end of the semester to the student with the highest academic achievement. And, it turned out to be me, but I was the only black student in the class, and the teacher got up in the front and she basically chastised all the other students because they clearly weren't working hard enough. Because, how in the world could a black student be number one? And, the other students, they were rolling their eyes and they were looking at me and sort of -- whenever she wasn't looking, they'd say, "She's crazy," and this stuff. But, she really believes stuff like that. It's amazing that there were people back there who had such ideals. There were teachers who would try to -- I remember the band teacher tried to destroy my report card because I had all As and so he got to put a mark on it, so he gave me a C, and he figured by doing that I wouldn't get the award, only to find out that band wasn't included as an academic subject! [Laughter]

How did that make you feel when you heard her say that?

Benjamin Carson: It was irritating, but at the same time, I just felt, "People are people, and this lady is a buffoon, and I'll show her," and I did. Maybe gave me a little extra determination, if nothing else.

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