Before Dr. Ben Carson began to speak in Kalispell on Thursday, he got a standing ovation from 1,300 people.
Before the night was over, the audience would stand twice more, applauding in appreciation of the world-renowned neurosurgeon.
Stillwater Christian School hosted Carson as the keynote speaker for its annual “For Such A Time As This” event at the packed Trade Center at the Flathead County Fairgrounds.
Prior to the event, the school started a Ben Carson Book Club reading challenge. Over 15 weeks, students read a combined 255,208 pages in addition to limiting watching TV and movies.
The challenge was modeled after one Carson received from his mother in fifth grade to read two books a week. In a year and a half, Carson went from the bottom of his class to the top.
Carson, a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient for his medical achievements, is the author of five books and founder of the Carson Scholars Fund.
When Carson was young, he thought about a career as a missionary doctor and a psychiatrist, eventually choosing to use talents he saw as God-given.
“I believe that God gives everybody special gifts and talents,” Carson said. “I realized I had good eye-hand coordination, the ability to think in three dimensions, [I was a] very careful person — never knocked things over and said ‘oops’ — good characteristics of a brain surgeon, don’t you think?”
He found that he enjoyed pediatric neurosurgery for his “return on investment.” According to Carson, 18 hours of surgery could lengthen a child’s life by 50, 60 or even 70 years.
“Medicine is such a wonderful career. If there are young people out there thinking about it, think seriously. You know, things look a little grim right now, but they’re going to get better,” Carson said. “We’re going to get through this phase and get back to a place where health care is actually in the hands of patients and health-care providers.”
Known for his outspoken position on conservative values and government policies, Carson cautioned his captive audience.
“I’ll just warn you that I am not politically correct,” Carson said mid-speech. “Political correctness is ruining us as a nation because this was a nation founded on the principles of freedom of expression, freedom of speech.
“The fabric of the nation is changing right beneath our feet and you can’t talk about it. I personally will not submit to the ‘PC police.’ I’m not going to let them tell me what I can say and I what I can’t say,” Carson said.
Political correctness creates division, he added.
“They say there’s a war on women — give me a break — racial wars, age wars, income wars, wherever they can drive a wedge into any crack,” Carson said. “It’s much easier to manipulate small groups than it is a whole population.
“What is going to be necessary is we the people of the United States have to wake up and realize we are being manipulated and we are not each other’s enemies. Those enemies are the people who are trying to manipulate us. We need to learn how to identify them. In cases where they are public officials we need to vote them out of office.”
Carson didn’t become a pioneering neurosurgeon overnight.
He said he had to build the foundation of his mind before he could rise above the poverty and violence surrounding him.
He said his parents divorced early on. His mother had married at 13 and it was later discovered his father was a bigamist. Two of his older cousins were killed and as a 9-year-old, Carson wasn’t sure he would reach 24.
Yet he pulled through with lessons his mother taught him early on — be independent, make no excuses, learn and read.
“My mom worked two to three jobs at a time because she didn’t want to be on welfare because she was very observant. She only had a third-grade education but she noticed that no one who went on welfare came off of it,” Carson said.
“She didn’t want to be dependent, she didn’t want us to be dependent, and she never felt sorry for herself.”
Learning not to make excuses was the best lesson, Carson said.
“That was probably the best thing she did for me and my brother, who became a rocket scientist, that she didn’t accept excuses, so we stopped making any excuses and started looking for solutions — something I highly recommend to all parents.”
Carson’s education was of the utmost importance to his mother when it was apparent he was struggling in fifth grade. His mother turned that around, requiring him to read at least two books a week and write reports, which she would mark up.
Despite the capability for today’s children to reach for their cellphones and look up information instead of relying on books, it is a superficial understanding of the world, he said.
“Any new piece of information you hear is filtered through your brain based on what you know, and if you don’t know very much it can have a very different effect than if you had a large base of knowledge. People who are manipulators like to take advantage of people who don’t have a large knowledge base,” Carson said.
A well-educated population propelled a fledgling America to rival other countries in innovation.
“Within 200 years of America coming on the scene, people were walking on the moon,” Carson said.
Thursday’s event closed with a question posed to Carson about the two biggest issues facing America today.
“I think the biggest issue facing us today is we’ve abandoned God,” Carson said.
He said that Judeo-Christian values built up the country in a short time and can spiral down just as quickly if God and spirituality continue to be neglected.
“I think the second biggest problem is we’ve become selfish. Nobody got that upset about ‘Fast and Furious’ [a botched federal firearms operation]. Nobody got that upset about Benghazi, NSA, IRS, but they got upset about Obamacare because that affected them personally,” Carson said.
“We’ve got to get back to the point that we care about all of our fellow citizens. Anything that affects one of us affects all of us.”
Dave Mostek of Kalispell brought his daughter, 15-year-old Audrey to the event.
“I want my daughter to have exposure to different thought so she can have a deeper thinking — whether she agrees or not,” Dave Mostek said. “It’s something we can discuss together instead of sitting around watching TV.”
Audrey was impressed with Carson’s speech.
“I’m impressed with the fact he took a rough situation [his childhood] and became a success,” she said. “His faith and beliefs, that made him successful.”
Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A crowd of 1,300 people filled the Trade Center at the Flathead County Fairgrounds on Thursday night to hear Dr. Ben Carson speak at Stillwater Christian School’s annual fundraising event.