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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,
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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 Interview (page: 4 / 8)

Pediatric Neurosurgeon

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  Benjamin Carson

Even after you graduated from high school and went on to Yale, there were certainly obstacles you had to overcome. There must have been times when you were discouraged. What role did persistence play in your career?

Benjamin Carson: When I was in college, I used to come home to Detroit for the summer. This was when Detroit was going through a lot of turmoil, because the Japanese were ascending in terms of their automobile production, and Detroit was going down, so there were never any summer jobs.

They would have all these stories on about how there would be no summer jobs, and there would be riots in the streets because the kids wouldn't have anything to do. A lot of kids just gave up and they said, "There's not going to be any jobs." But, I would just get on the bus and ride out somewhere and get off, and if I saw a business establishment I'd go knock on the door and say, "I'm a summer student, I need a job." And, I usually got one.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

But, one time I couldn't get a job, even that way, it was so bad. And, my creativity, I guess, went into another gear, and I decided to go to the Young and Rubicam Company. When I was applying to college, I had done my regional interview there, and I knew that the Executive Vice President would remember me, 'cause he had done my interview. So, I went up to the penthouse suite, waited 'til his secretary turned her back, and darted into his office. And he said, "Benjamin, how are you? How are things at Yale?" And, I said that "Things are wonderful, but I can't find a job this summer." And he said, "Did you try our personnel office?" I said no. Actually I had tried it. And, he said, "I'll tell you what." He picked up the telephone, and he called the personnel director. He says, "I know we're not hiring this summer, but I have a young man here, and I'm going to send him down. I want you to give him a job."

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

So, having gone to that next gear, rather than sort of giving up, provided me with a very excellent job that summer too. That happens to me a lot. It happens all the time in medicine. I'll try one thing, it doesn't work, and I'll look and see what other people did. I'll read about what they did, and then I'll say, "Hmm. There must be a better way to do this."

Race is a very important element of American history and contemporary society as well. Would you say that race is something that you have had to overcome, or is it something that has ultimately worked in your favor?

Benjamin Carson: I would put it this way; it's something that I haven't invested a great deal of energy in. My mother used to say, "If you walk into an auditorium full of racist, bigoted people," she said, "you don't have a problem, they have a problem." Because when you walk in, they're all going to cringe and wonder if you're going to sit next to them, whereas you can sit anywhere you want. And, that was a philosophy that I sort of carry through life. You know, if somebody else was having problems with the way I look, that's too bad. You know? I have more important things to do than to invest my energies in their problem.

Wasn't it hard to come to that determination?

Benjamin Carson: It wasn't difficult for me at all. And it remains not difficult today. I remember when I was an intern, and anytime I would go onto the wards with my scrubs on, one of the nurses invariably would say, you know, "Mr. Jones isn't quite ready to be taken to the O.R. yet," assuming that I was an orderly. I wouldn't get angry, I would simply say, "Well that's nice, but I'm Dr. Carson. I'm the intern." And, you know, they'd turn about 18 shades of red, but I would be very nice to them and understanding, and I had a friend for life. You know? Rather than blowing up and saying, "How dare you!" You know, all this, because I recognize that the reason they said that was not necessarily because they were racist, but because from their perspective the only black man they had ever seen on that ward with scrubs on was an orderly, so why should they think anything different?

Benjamin Carson Interview Photo
A lot of times people blow things out of proportion that don't need to be blown out of proportion. Not to say that there aren't some people who are clearly racist on both sides, on all sides. There always will be people who are like that, as long as there are people with small minds and the devil to stimulate them. But why should I spend my time worrying about that?

You only have so much time in your life, and you only have so much energy. So you have to select very carefully how you're going to spend that time and how you're going to spend that energy. If you waste it spinning your wheels on things that are not going to change, then it deprives you of an opportunity of utilizing it on things that are going to change.

You've made history in more than one way, by performing operations that people thought couldn't be performed -- in one of the most highly specialized and technical and challenging areas of surgery -- and by being the first black man to do this. Which of those things is more important to you?

Benjamin Carson: The most important thing to me is taking your God-given talents and developing them to the utmost, so that you can be useful to your fellow man, period. That is by far the most important thing. And, you know, whether I happen to be the first black person to do that, or the first person, period, to do that -- which is the case in both situations -- I don't know that that's particularly important.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

So you're not motivated by that.

Benjamin Carson: I am definitely not motivated by that. The thing that really motivates me right now, to be honest with you, is the opportunity to get other people to understand what's important in life. What's important in their life, and what's important in the life of our society and in the life of our nation? I really believe that that's what civilization is all about. And, it doesn't have a whole lot to do, quite frankly, with the accumulation of wealth, and titles, and degrees and power. Even though, interestingly enough, when you do develop your God-given talents and you become valuable, you know, those things just seem to accumulate.

But that should not be a person's goal. The goal should be to become a valuable individual, and I believe that that's what success is all about. And the more people we can get to understand that, the better off we're going to be as a nation. And I believe it becomes particularly important when we're talking about America, because this is a nation that is composed of so many different kinds of people from so many different places. And, if you look at the globe right now, and you look at all the ethnic strife that is going on, you realize the tremendous potential for destruction that exists in our country, if we don't begin to channel our energies in the right ways. And begin to think logically and begin to outline what our visions and our goals are. Begin to stop attacking our leadership, so that individuals who really do have leadership ability would be willing to step forth and lead.

We need to learn from the past. We need to look at history and understand how the great empires of the past went into decline. Many of the things that they did are things that we are doing now. I believe that we're smarter than that as a people, and that we do have the ability to turn it around. That's my real goal in life. Neurosurgery is only a vehicle whereby to do it.

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