Dr. Ben Carson talks faith, humble beginnings at Vero Beach Prayer Breakfast


VERO BEACH — As he spoke about his childhood, renowned retired neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson Sr. recounted the not-so-pleasant times where he was teased by his school peers. They called him “dumb.”

Carson – a former U.S. presidential candidate – laughed at the memories, but then his voice took a serious tone.

“It bothered me a lot. It bothered my mother,” said Carson, keynote speaker for the 18th annual Vero Beach Prayer Breakfast. Carson said his mother Sonya Carson – who worked as domestic cleaner – sought better for Carson and his older brother after noticing her children’s grades lagged far behind their peers.

Carson, born Sept. 18, 1951, in Detroit, Michigan, said his mother had a third-grade education. Carson was only eight years old when his parents separated, and he and his brother went to live with his mother. His parents eventually divorced.

Carson said his mother acted like a spy when she went to clean other people’s homes.

“My mom wondered how these people got successful. They read books,” Carson said. “My mother made my brother and I read books (instead of watching television). Once I recognized it was up to me, I didn’t mind being poor anymore.”

Despite his circumstances, Carson changed the narrative of his life with focus and determination. Carson recalled being surprised at the lectures by neurosurgeons while he was in medical school.

“I was amazed at what they were able to do,” Carson said. “God does not distribute talent based on race.”

Carson graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School with an M.D. degree in 1977 and was elected to the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society. He completed five years as a neurosurgery resident at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, finishing the final year as a chief resident in 1983.

Faith, community, history and unity were a few key points Carson touched on during his 30-minute speech Tuesday morning at Riverside Park in Vero Beach. The prayer breakfast events aim to encourage participants to be part of a small group that “cultivates growth and facilitates positive change to create God-centered communities,” according to organizers.

Attendees enjoyed breakfast provided by Chik-Fil-A, which included chicken biscuits and pastries. The audience stood to their feet as Grammy award-winning gospel artist Guy Penrod performed many of his hit songs, including “You Reign.”

Carson sat next to his wife of 47 years Lacena Candy Carson – an author and businesswoman – before he was introduced to the crowd. As he wrapped up his speech, Carson said people need more courage, trust and faith in God.

“It’s our responsibility to make sure we live by Godly principles – taking care of your neighbor, one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all,” Carson said. Carson shook the hands of attendees and signed autographs before he was escorted back to a private vehicle.

This isn’t Carson’s first stop to Vero Beach.

The retired neurosurgeon spoke to students and parents in April 2015 at St. Edward’s School.  At that event, Carson spoke about how his mother’s strong will and emphasis on education helped him to rise out of poverty.

Dr. Carson’s background

Carson, a former candidate for the President of the U.S. in the 2016 Republican primaries, has a plethora of accomplishments under his name. Carson is considered a pioneer in the field of neurosurgery and served as the 17th Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development from 2017 to 2021.

In 1987, Carson successfully performed the first separation of craniopagus twins conjoined at the back of the head, his biography shows. Carson also completed the first successful separation of type-2 vertical craniopagus twins in 1997 in South Africa.

Carson served as the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center for nearly 30 years, according to his biography. He took on the position when he was only 33 years old, making him the youngest major division director in the hospital’s history.

Carson is the founder and chairman of the American Cornerstone Institute, a research institute that promotes faith, liberty, community and life along with common sense solutions.

Carson has received numerous awards and recognitions including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, his biography shows. Dr. Carson also received the Spingarn Medal, the highest honor granted from the NAACP.

He has also received more than 70 honorary doctorate degrees and authored nine books.

Carson and his wife co-founded the Carson Scholars Fund, Inc., a nonprofit organization that recognizes young people of all backgrounds for their academic and humanitarian achievements. Carson Scholars Fund – founded in 1994 – has granted more than $8 million total in scholarships.

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