Note: Dr. Benjamin Carson has been in the news, it seems a good time to re-post an article I wrote on him way back in 2009. Even more it's the story of his mother and her courage. This is a bit long, but I promise it will lift your heart.
Have you ever doubted yourself and your ability to give your children what they need? Have you wondered how to help them develop inner strength and live a purposeful life? A recent television interview reminded me of an amazing woman, Sonya Carson. With limited education, she reared two sons alone and coped with challenges most of us can't imagine. I've admired her for years, ever since her older son told his family's story at a convention we attended.
How did Sonya and her two sons get through tough times--and what can she teach us? Quite a lot, I think.
Sonya and her husband separated when Ben was seven and his brother, Curtis, five. Divorced and alone, she determined to provide for them--and she did. Sonya worked two or three jobs, mopping floors, taking whatever jobs she could find, always for low pay. Often she came home to find her sons asleep in front of the television set.
In the beginning they lived with relatives in a Boston tenement. Then they moved back to Detroit and into Government housing. Each day the boys got themselves up, then walked along the railroad track to school. Classmates called fifth-grader Ben the dumbest kid in class and made jokes about him.
One day he brought home a report card that changed his life. His mother read it carefully and she was not happy. "You're a smart boy, Bennie! You can do anything you want to do. I know you can do better! If you keep up like this, you'll end up sweeping floors or on skid row. That's not the kind of life I want for you--and neither does God."
Sonya asked God, whom she calls her friend and partner, for wisdom. A day or so later she imposed a rule and pledged her sons to honor it. They were to come home immediately after school. No playing outside until after their homework was done. No hanging around after sunset in the dangerous halls and public areas of their high-rise. Television watching would be limited to two programs per week, to be viewed only after their homework was done. Furthermore, each boy was to read two books a week from the neighborhood public library, then write a book report which she would critique. Neither the complaints of her sons, nor the criticism of her friends swayed her decision.
"I know you boys have good minds," she told her sons. "If you can read, you can learn just about anything you want to know. The doors of the world are open to people who can read."
Before long the boys became well-known to the friendly librarians. Each week Sonya Carson carefully checked and read her sons' book reports, then asked them questions and offered encouragement. (Years later Ben realized his mother, with only a third-grade education, could not have deciphered many of the words he wrote.)
Bennie first read his way through the section on animals and then tackled books about rocks. The crushed rocks along the track now fascinated him. Soon his new-found knowledge impressed his teacher and classmates. By the middle of his sixth grade, Benjamin led his class.
Yet all along Ben struggled with his violent temper, which led to frequent confrontations with classmates. At age fourteen he came to a turning point. In the heat of rage he stabbed a friend who simply had changed a radio station. That boy's heavy metal belt buckle saved his life. Terrified at his own fury, Ben ran home and locked himself in the bathroom with the Bible. He stayed there for hours, praying that God would help him deal with his temper. He turned to the Book of Proverbs and found many verses about anger. The one that struck his heart was Proverbs 16:32:
"Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city."
Ben vowed that with God's help, he would control his anger, rather than his anger controlling him. Since that time, he says, he never lost his temper again.
After that he poured himself into his studies, graduated high school, entered Yale in 1969, then went on to medical school. At the early age of thirty-three, Benjamin Solomon Carson, M.D., became the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins. He pioneered in separating co-joined (Siamese) twins. In 1987 he and his 70-member team, in a twenty-two hour surgery, successfully separated the Binder twins, who were joined at the head. Both survived.
Today Ben Carson continues to pioneer new techniques and pray before each surgery. He and his wife, Candy, have three sons. The pair launched a foundation that awards scholarships based on academic excellence and commitment to the community. So far they've awarded over 3,400 scholarships. A committed Christian, he still reads from the Book of Proverbs, morning and evening.
In interviews, Ben Carson discounts the lifetime effect of poverty and racial prejudice. "My mother used to say, 'If you walk into an auditorium full of racist, bigoted people ... you don't have a problem, they have a problem.' ... The person who has the most to do with who you are and what you become is you."
That philosophy probably stems from from Sonya Carson's frequentl admonition to her sons: "You do your best, and God will do the rest."
She lived that principle through their growing up years. "My job was to prepare them. And I turned to God for help every inch of the way," she says. Later, Sonya studied and obtained her GED, then went on to junior college and a successful career.
So next time you hear some talking head drone on about youngsters who have "no chance to succeed," remember the Carson boys. Growing up, they fit into every dismal profile: a single-parent home; below the poverty line income; substandard housing in a bad neighborhood; under-funded schools.
You'll have days you feel life is too hard, or think you lack what it takes. If money is tight, you may fear you're shortchanging your children. Then call Sonya Carson and her courage to mind. Think of the rich gifts she gave her sons in that dismal setting! She spoke courage when she didn't know how she'd get through the week. She set limits for her children, always encouraging them, always speaking faith and confidence. They grew strong from within--and so did she.
Not once did she walk alone. Neither do you, if, like Sonya, God is your friend and your partner.
Just invite him along on your journey ... and be at peace. I know He will not let you down.
QUESTION FOR YOU: What have you learned about coping with challenges? Your comments welcomed! (Click on the word, "comments" in the small print at the end of this post.)
Note: To read more, Google "Benjamin Carson, M.D." Or watch reruns of the TNT movie, "Gifted Hands," starring Cuba Gooding. It's based on Ben Carson's book by the same name. His earlier book is "Think Big."