Ben Carson on giving
Renowned neurosurgeon also heals through philanthropy
Dr. Benjamin S. Carson, pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins, discusses the Bijani twins' unsuccessful operation last month. (Sun file photo by Jed Kirschbaum / July 11, 2003)
Born into poverty in Detroit, Carson's childhood was marked by a strong temper, low self-esteem and constant ridicule from classmates because of poor grades. But his mother, Sonya Carson, refused to accept that. Motivated by her strong faith, Sonya Carson raised her two sons alone -- demanding they read two books every week and submit reports to her.
She insisted that Ben persevere in school, and his grades soon improved. He later graduated from Yale University and the University of Michigan School of Medicine before joining the Johns Hopkins Children's Center as director of pediatric neurosurgery in 1984.
His worldwide recognition first came in 1987, with the successful separation of Siamese twins from Germany. This past July, he participated in the unsuccessful effort to separate the adult Bijani twins from Iran.
In 1994, Dr. Carson and his wife, Candy, began what is now the Carson Scholars Fund Inc., which recognizes high school students for academic and humanitarian achievement. The fund has awarded 1,040 scholarships. Last year, Dr. Carson co-founded the Benevolent Endowment Fund to help cover the medical expenses of uninsured and underinsured brain surgery patients. His service work was slowed last year after a bout with prostate cancer.
Known as the neurosurgeon with the "gifted hands," Dr. Carson serves on the boards of Kellogg Co. and Costco Wholesale Corp. He will be saluted Tuesday by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Maryland Inc., for his humanitarian efforts. Since its founding in 1952, the organization has mentored more than 30,000 children in the Baltimore region.
In his office at Hopkins -- surrounded by walls of honorary degrees, awards, stacks of journals and reports -- Dr. Carson discussed his passion: service.
Are you happy about being honored by Big Brothers Big Sisters?
I don't want to sound immodest, but recognition doesn't do a great deal for me, to be honest. I get way too much recognition as it is. I have 33 honorary doctorate degrees, citations from cities all over the country -- other places, as well -- and a zillion people are always trying to honor me.
But this honor is particularly important because it deals with children. This is what I've dedicated all my life to -- my professional career, as well as many of my extracurricular activities -- recognizing that they are our future. Any organization that deals with children, obviously, is going to be considerably higher on my agenda. Anything I can do to elevate the cause of children interests me.
You recognize that children are our future, and it depends on what kind of future you want to have. When you're old, what kind of people do you want taking care of you? You actually do have some input into that. If you are callous, then there's a good chance they will be callous, too. You have some influence, right now, in that.
You can live your life onto yourself, be selfish, put your feet up in your house, drive your nice BMW and not give a hoot about anyone else. But it will come back. You'll get the same thing.
Why do you give?
To me, giving is making yourself available. It's using the gifts and talents that God has given you to elevate other people -- mentally, physically and spiritually. And it also, in my case and in my wife's case, involves giving a lot of money.
How much money have you donated to various causes over the years?
Probably more than a million dollars, personally; through the foundation, quite a bit more.
And to those who say -- "You're supposed to give; you're Ben Carson" -- how do you respond?
I would say, "Where does it say that?" [chuckle]. I personally believe that to whom much is given, much is required -- but that's my own personal belief.