As a child, Benjamin Carson, MD, remembers hating poverty. He also recalls the moment he learned not to.
“Luckily, I grew up in a time when what parents said mattered,” Carson, director of the Division of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, said. Although unhappy when his mother made him read rather than watch TV, it was in those moments that he learned to consider being poor a temporary state.
Part of Northwestern University’s weeklong celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Carson visited both campuses on Monday, January 16, as faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community members came together to honor the life and legacy of the civil rights leader.
The afternoon conversation with Carson was moderated by renowned journalist Mary Mitchell, a Chicago Sun Times columnist and editorial board member.
During the interview, before a crowd of about 500 people inside Thorne Auditorium, Carson discussed education in America, and the fundamental understanding that what matters most is not race, but the self-dedication of students and educators.
Too many people pay attention to the surface, Carson said, recalling a recent National Public Radio interview he did where a journalist asked him why he doesn’t speak more about race.
“Because I am a neurosurgeon,” he said. “I’m operating on the thing that makes that person who they are. The cover doesn’t make the person, the brain makes the person.”
Growing up in a single-parent home alongside his brother, and challenged by poverty and poor grades, Carson credits his mother with helping him realize his dream of becoming a physician. In 1987, he completed the first and only successful separation of craniopagus (Siamese) twins joined at the back of the head and a decade later he conducted the first completely-successful separation of type-2 vertical craniopagus twins.
In 2001, Carson was named by CNN and TIME magazine as one of the nation’s 20 foremost physicians and scientists and in June 2008 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the country, by President George W. Bush.
One of the things Carson hoped audience members would take away from the event is that people spend the first 20 to 25 years of life learning things to be applied in the next 60. Either you spend those first two decades preparing for the future, or you spend the next six facing the consequences. Either way, you are the only person who truly determines whether you become educated.
“The key is making sure that we instill within our young people the understanding that they have within themselves the drive and the resources necessary,” Carson said.
Planned by the Chicago campus DREAM committee, “Separate and Unequal: Color Lines in Education,” was part of the broader Northwestern University celebrations reflecting on King’s life.
Events commemorating MLK’s legacy took place from January 9 through January 16, and focused on segregation, education, and other equal rights issues in America.
Classes at Northwestern were suspended on Monday in observance of the holiday, allowing students on both campuses to attend events.
Jointly planned by DREAM Committee members from the Feinberg School of Medicine and the School of Law, the keynote program on the Chicago campus included performances by the G3 Youth Gospel and opera singer Martin Woods. Among others, Eric Neilson, MD, dean of the medical school, welcomed those in attendance and pointed out the importance of the celebration.
Medical students can learn from Dr. King, Neilson reminded the crowd. “In fact, we are all students of Martin Luther King. A child of any color is not born with prejudice, so we as adults must become better teachers.”
After remarks by Dean Neilson, Daniel Rodriguez, dean of the law school, and a performance of Just a Few Hearts from the The March: A Civil Rights Opera, the third annual Martin Luther King Youth Art Contest finalists and winner were honored on stage.
The event continued with the presentation of the fourth annual DREAM Award for commitment to social justice and equality in law or medicine to Project Brotherhood, a Chicago-based medical and social services organization. This year’s award, presented by Brittne Halford, M3, marked the first time it has been given to a group rather than an individual.
Thomas Mason, MD, instructor of clinical medicine, co-medical director at Project Brotherhood, accepted the award, bringing his young sons onstage to share in the moment.