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Rufai Oladimeji
Lagos State University
100Level, Nigeria.
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Renowned neurosurgeon Ben Carson is the United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, appointed by President Donald Trump.

Who Is Ben Carson?

Ben Carson was born in Detroit, Michigan,
on September 18, 1951. Carson went from
being a poor student to receiving academic
honors and eventually attending medical
school. As a doctor, he became director of
pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins
Hospital at age 33 and earned fame for his
groundbreaking work separating conjoined
twins. He retired from medicine in 2013,
and two years later he entered politics,
making a bid to become the
Republican candidate for U.S. president.
Carson dropped out of the race
in March 2016 and became a vocal
supporter of Republican nominee Donald
Trump, eventually earning selection as
President Trump's secretary of the
Department of Housing and Urban

Birth and Family Background

Benjamin Solomon Carson was born in
Detroit, Michigan, on September 18, 1951,
the second son of Sonya and Robert
Solomon Carson. His mother was raised in
Tennessee in a very large family and
dropped out of school in the third grade.

With limited prospects in life, she married
Baptist minister and factory worker Robert
Carson when she was 13. The couple
moved to Detroit and had two children.

Sonya eventually discovered her husband
was a bigamist and had another secret
family. After the couple divorced, Robert
moved in with his other family, leaving
Sonya and her children financially

Influential Mother

Ben was 8 and Curtis, his brother, was 10
when Sonya began to raise them as a
single mother, reportedly moving to
Boston to live with her sister for a time
and eventually returning to Detroit. The
family was very poor and, to make ends
meet, Sonya sometimes toiled at two or
three jobs simultaneously in order to
provide for her boys. Most of the jobs she
had was as a domestic worker.

As Carson later detailed in his
autobiography, his mother was frugal with
the family's finances, cleaning and
patching clothes from the Goodwill in
order to dress the boys. The family would
also go to local farmers and offer to pick
vegetables in exchange for a portion of the
yield. Sonya would then can the produce
for her boys' meals. Her actions, and the
way she managed the family, proved to be
a tremendous influence on Ben and Curtis.
Sonya also taught her boys that anything
was possible. By his recollection many
years later, Carson had thoughts of a
career in medicine. For medical care, his
family would have to wait for hours to be
seen by one of the interns at hospitals in
Boston or Detroit. Carson observed the
hospital as doctors and nurses went about
their routines, dreaming that one day they
would be calling for a "Dr. Carson."

Continue reading below
Ben Carson Biography: Philanthropist, Politician, Author, Surgeon (1951–) - Biography

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Rufai Oladimeji
Lagos State University
100Level, Nigeria.
Power of Reading

Both Carson and his brother experienced
difficulty in school. Ben fell to the bottom
of his class and became the object of
ridicule by his classmates. Determined to
turn her sons around, Sonya limited their
TV time to a few select programs and
refused to let them go outside to play until
they had finished their homework.

She required them to read two library
books a week and give her written reports,
even though with her poor education, she
could barely read them. At first, Ben
resented the strict regimen, but after
several weeks, he began to find enjoyment
in reading, discovering he could go
anyplace, be anybody and do anything
between the covers of a book.
Ben began to learn how to use his
imagination and found it more enjoyable
than watching television. This attraction to
reading soon led to a strong desire to
learn more. Carson read literature about
all types of subjects, seeing himself as the
central character of what he was reading,
even if it was a technical book or an

Carson would later say that he began to
view his prospects differently, that he
could become the scientist or physician he
had dreamed about, and thus, he
cultivated an academic focus. A fifth grade
science teacher was one of the first to
encourage Carson's interests in lab work
after he was the only student able to
identify an obsidian rock sample brought
to school.

Within a year, Carson was amazing his
teachers and classmates with his academic
improvement. He was able to recall facts
and examples from his books at home and
relate them to what he was learning in

Still, there were challenges. After Carson
received a certificate of achievement in
the eighth grade for being at the top of his
class, a teacher openly berated his fellow
white students for letting a black boy get
ahead of them academically.

At Southwestern High School in inner-city
Detroit, Carson's science teachers
recognized his intellectual abilities and
mentored him further. Other educators
helped him to stay focused when outside
influences pulled him off course.

Anger Issues

Despite his academic successes, Carson
had a raging temper that translated into
violent behavior as a child. In his
autobiography, he stated that he once
tried to hit his mother with a hammer
because she disagreed with his choice of
clothes. (His mother had in fact said in a
1988 Detroit Free Press article that she
was the one wielding the hammer, with
her other son Curtis intervening in the
argument.) At another time, he claimed to
have inflicted a head injury on a classmate
in a dispute at his locker. In a final
incident, Ben said he nearly stabbed a
friend after arguing over a choice of radio

According to Carson, the only thing that
prevented a tragic event was the knife
blade allegedly broke on the friend's belt
buckle. Not knowing the extent of his
friend's injury, Carson ran home and
locked himself in the bathroom with a
Bible. Terrified by his own actions, he
started praying, asking God to help him
find a way to deal with his temper, finding
salvation in the Book of Proverbs. Carson
began to realize that much of his anger
stemmed from constantly putting himself
in the center of events happening around

Burgeoning Surgical Career

Carson graduated with honors from
Southwestern, having also become a senior
commander in the school's ROTC program.

He earned a full scholarship to Yale,
receiving a B.A. degree in psychology in
Carson enrolled in the School of Medicine
at the University of Michigan, choosing to
become a neurosurgeon. In 1975, he
married Lacena "Candy" Rustin, whom he
met at Yale. Carson earned his medical
degree, and the young couple moved to
Baltimore, Maryland, where he became an
intern at Johns Hopkins University in
1977. His excellent eye-hand coordination
and three-dimensional reasoning skills
made him a superior surgeon early on. By
1982, he was chief resident in
neurosurgery at Hopkins.

In 1983, Carson received an important
invitation. Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in
Perth, Australia, needed a neurosurgeon
and invited Carson to take the position.
Resistant at first to move so far away from
home, he eventually accepted the offer. It
proved to be an important one. Australia
at the time was lacking doctors with highly
sophisticated training in neurosurgery.
Carson gained several years worth of
experience in the year he was at Gairdner
Hospital and honed his skills

Carson returned to Johns Hopkins in 1984
and, by 1985, he became director of
pediatric neurosurgery at the age of 33, at
the time, the youngest U.S. physician to
hold such a position. In 1987, Carson
attracted international attention by
performing a surgery to separate 7-
month-old occipital craniopagus twins in
Germany. Patrick and Benjamin Binder
were born joined at the head. Their
parents contacted Carson, who went to
Germany to consult with the family and
the boys' doctors. Because the boys were
joined at the back of the head, and
because they had separate brains, he felt
the operation could be performed

On September 4, 1987, after months of
rehearsals, Carson and a huge team of
doctors, nurses and support staff joined
forces for what would be a 22-hour
procedure. Part of the challenge in radical
neurosurgery is to prevent severe bleeding
and trauma to the patients. In the highly
complex operation, Carson had applied
both hypothermic and circulatory arrest.
Although the twins did suffer some brain
damage and post-operation bleeding, both
survived the separation, allowing Carson's
surgery to be considered by the medical
establishment the first successful
procedure of its kind.

Separating Conjoined Twins

In 1994, Carson and his team went to
South Africa to separate the Makwaeba
twins. The operation was unsuccessful, as
both girls died from complications of the
surgery. Carson was devastated, but vowed
to press on, as he knew such procedures
could be successful. In 1997, Carson and
his team went to Zambia in South Central
Africa to separate infant boys Luka and
Joseph Banda. This operation was
especially difficult because the boys were
joined at the tops of their heads, facing in
opposite directions, making it the first
time a surgery of this type had been
performed. After a 28-hour operation,
that was supported by previously rendered
3-D mapping, both boys survived and
neither suffered brain damage.

Over time, Ben Carson's operations began
to gain media attention. At first, what
people saw was the soft-spoken surgeon
explaining complicated procedures in
simple terms. But in time, Carson's own
story became publicβ€”a troubled youth
growing up in the inner city to a poor
family eventually finding success.

Soon, Carson began traveling to schools,
businesses and hospitals across the
country telling his story and imparting his
philosophy of life. Out of this dedication
to education and helping young people,
Carson and his wife founded the Carson
Scholars Fund in 1994. The foundation
grants scholarships to students and
promotes reading in the younger grades.

Continue reading below
Ben Carson Biography: Philanthropist, Politician, Author, Surgeon (1951–) - Biography

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Rufai Oladimeji
Lagos State University
100Level, Nigeria.
Biggest Medical Challenge

In 2003, Ben Carson faced what was
perhaps his biggest challenge: separating
adult conjoined twins. Ladan and Laleh
Bijani were Iranian women who were
joined at the head. For 29 years, they had
literally lived together in every conceivable
way. Like normal twins, they shared
experiences and outlooks, including
earning law degrees, but as they got older
and developed their own individual
aspirations, they knew they could never
lead independent lives unless they
separated. As they told Carson at one
point, "We would rather die than spend
another day together."

This type of medical procedure had never
been attempted on conjoined adults
because of the dangerous outcomes. By
this time, Carson had been conducting
brain surgery for nearly 20 years and had
performed several craniopagus
separations. He later stated he tried to talk
the two women out of the surgery, but
after many discussions with them and
consultations with many other doctors and
surgeons, he agreed to proceed.
Carson and a team of more than 100
surgeons, specialists and assistants
traveled to Singapore in Southeast Asia. On
July 6, 2003, Carson and his team began
the nearly 52-hour operation. They again
relied on a 3-D imaging technique that
Carson had utilized to prepare for the
Banda twins' operation. The computerized
images allowed the medical team to
conduct a virtual surgery before the
operation. During the procedure, they
followed digital reconstructions of the
twins' brains.

The surgery revealed more difficulties
outside of the girls' ages; their brains not
only shared a major vein but had fused
together. The separation was completed
during the afternoon on July 8. But it was
soon apparent that the girls were in deep
critical condition.

At 2:30 p.m., Ladan died on the operating
table. Her sister Laleh died a short time
later. The loss was devastating to all,
especially Carson, who stated that the the
girls' bravery to pursue the operation had
contributed to neurosurgery in ways that
would live far beyond them.

Because of his unflagging dedication to
children and his many medical
breakthroughs, Carson has received a
legion of honorary doctorate degrees and
accolades, and has sat on the boards of
numerous business and education boards.

Accolades and Books

In 2002, Carson was forced to cut back on
his breakneck pace after developing
prostate cancer. He took an active role in
his own case, reviewing X-rays and
consulting with the team of surgeons who
operated on him. Carson fully recovered
from the operation cancer-free. The brush
with death caused him to adjust his life to
spend more time with his wife and their
three children, Murray, Benjamin Jr. and
After his recovery, Carson still kept a busy
schedule, conducting operations and
speaking to various groups around the
country. He has also written several books,
including the popular autobiography Gifted
Hands (1990). Other titles includeβ€” Think
Big (1992), The Big Picture (1999),
and Take the Risk (2007)β€”are about his
personal philosophies on learning, success,
hard work and religious faith.

In 2000, the Library of Congress selected
Carson as one of its "Living Legends." The
following year, CNN and Time magazine
named Carson as one of the nation's 20
foremost physicians and scientists. In
2006, he received the Spingarn Medal, the
highest honor bestowed by the NAACP. In
February 2008, President George W. Bush
awarded Carson the Ford's Theatre Lincoln
Medal and the Presidential Medal of
Freedom. And in 2009, actor Cuba
Gooding Jr . portrayed Carson in the TNT
television production Gifted Hands .

Presidential Run
As Carson focused more on politics than
on medicine, he became known as an
outspoken conservative Republican. In
2012, he published America the Beautiful:

Rediscovering What Made This Nation
Great. In February 2013, Carson
attracted attention for his speech at the
National Prayer Breakfast. He criticized
President Barack Obama for his positions
on taxation and healthcare.

The following month he announced that he
was officially retiring from his career as a
surgeon. That October, he was hired by
Fox News in October 2013 to work as a
contributor. Then in May 2014, Carson
published his No. 1 New York Times
bestseller One Nation: What We Can All Do
To Save America's Future . [Read our
interview with Ben Carson .]

On May 4, 2015, Carson launched his
official bid for the Republican presidential
nomination at an event in Detroit. β€œI’m not
a politician,” Carson said. β€œI don’t want to
be a politician because politicians do what
is politically expedient. I want to do
what’s right.”

During the Campaign and the End of
the Trail

With a crowded field of contenders,
Carson was one of the 10 top candidates
who participated in a Fox News
presidential debate in early August.
Over the ensuing months, Carson rose
through the ranks to become a leading
contender among the nominees against
outspoken rival Donald Trump and was
seen as a favorite among evangelicals.
(Carson is a Seventh Day Adventist.) In
October, he also released another book, A
More Perfect Union .

After Carson began his presidential
campaign, several news sources questioned
statements he had made about his
background in Gifted Hands . Having
asserted in the book that he was granted a
full scholarship for admission to West
Point, news magazine Politico reported
that Carson had never applied to the
military academy, which his team
confirmed. There were also questions
concerning the accuracy of his statements
about being a violent youngster, with CNN
conducting an investigation into Carson's
school days and life in his old
Despite early momentum, Ben Carson's
campaign never caught much fire with
voters. Turn out at his rallies was
enthusiastic, but small compared to the
other leading contenders. He survived the
gradual attrition of candidates through the
fall and into the new year, and erroneous
news reports that he was withdrawing
from the campaign. But his poor showing
during Super Tuesday on March 1, 2016,
all but sealed his fate.

On March 2, 2016, Ben Carson announced
that he saw no path forward in his
campaign and chose not to attend the
Republican debate on March 3, in his
hometown of Detroit. The next afternoon,
at the CPAC (Conservative Political Action
Conference), he spoke before an
enthusiastic crowd about his values and
the issues he felt important in the current
campaign. He thanked his campaign staff
and volunteers, especially Branden Joplin,
an Iowa staffer who was killed in a car
crash during the Iowa caucuses. He then
stated, "I’m leaving the campaign trail.”
There was a softened moan from the
crowd, then a standing ovation.

Later, when asked where he would send
his supporters, he related a story of
someone who said said he would not vote
if Carson were not running. Carson,
described this as troubling, suggesting that
not voting at all was giving their vote to
the other side. He encouraged his
supporters to act responsibly, do
their civic duty, and vote. He did not
endorse another candidate at that time,
but later threw his support behind Donald
As the campaign continued, Carson
became one of Trump's most loyal
supporters, stumping for him around the
country leading up to the election.

On November 8, 2016, Trump was elected
the 45th president of the United States,
winning the majority of electoral college
votes. Amidst reports about Trump naming
Carson to a cabinet position in his
administration, Carson's friend and
business manager Armstrong Williams told
the press: "Dr. Carson feels he has no
government experience, he's never run a
federal agency. The last thing he would
want to do was take a position that could
cripple the presidency."

HUD Secretary

On December 5, 2016, Trump announced
he was nominating Carson as the secretary
of the Department of Housing and Urban
Development (HUD). "Ben Carson has a
brilliant mind and is passionate about
strengthening communities and families
within those communities," Trump said in
a statement.
Despite Democratic opponents' concerns
over Carson's lack of experience in the
housing field, the Senate Banking, Housing
and Urban Affairs Committee unanimously
approved Carson's nomination on January
24, 2017. The Senate confirmed his
nomination in a 58-41 vote on March 2,

Carson's first year in office largely flew
under the radar. However, in late February
2018, it was reported that a former chief
administrative officer had filed a
complaint with a federal whistleblower
agency over her treatment at the HUD.

The former officer alleged she had been
demoted for refusing to allocate funds for
a costly makeover of Carson's office,
including a $31,000 dining room set, and
described an environment in which high-
level officials instructed her to skirt the
rules or break them entirely. Carson also
came under fire for inviting son Ben Jr., an
investor, to department meetings, which
was seen as a conflict of interest.

A week later, The New York Times revealed
a broader picture of the problems
plaguing the HUD, including Carson's
inability to influence the president and
stave off significant budget cuts.

Furthermore, the secretary's lack of
experience threatened to torpedo his
planned pet project, a series of centers
designed to provide low-income families
with one-stop access to educational, job
training and healthcare services.
"There are more complexities here than in
brain surgery," said Carson. "Doing this
job is going to be a very intricate

Called to appear before the House
Appropriations subcommittee in March to
discuss the HUD's budget, Carson instead
spent much of the time explaining the
$31,000 dining room set. He said he had
"dismissed" himself from the decision-
making in that case, leaving it up to his
wife, though recently released emails
under a Freedom of Information Act
request showed that he had input in the
In March 2019, Carson told Newsmax TV
that he planned to leave his HUD post at
the conclusion of President Trump's first
term. "I would be interested in returning
to the private sector because I think you
have just as much influence, maybe more,
there," he said.

Citation Information

Article Title
Ben Carson Biography

Biography.com Editors

Website Name
The Biography.com website


Access Date
Sunday March 31, 2019

A&E Television Networks

Last Updated
March 5, 2019

Original Published Date
April 2, 2014


Ben Carson Biography: Philanthropist, Politician, Author, Surgeon (1951–) - Biography

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