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Speakers Urge Students to Keep the Dream Alive

Dr. Benjamin Carson talks to Chicago Sun-Times columnist during Chicago MLK celebration

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January 16, 2012 | by Marla Paul

CHICAGO --- Benjamin S. Carson Sr., M.D., participated in a spirited conversation at Northwestern University with Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell encouraging African-American students to make the most of their education and inspiring parents to help their children.

The onstage conversation took place Jan. 16 on Northwestern’s Chicago campus in the Thorne Auditorium as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration, “Separate and Unequal: Color Lines in Education.”

Carson also emphasized the importance of teaching young students about significant African-Americans in the history of the United States and in contemporary life -- beyond famous entertainers and athletes -- so students could see the possibilities for their own achievements. Many of his comments inspired the audience to burst into spontaneous applause.

Mitchell asked why schools are still struggling, especially in Chicago, to get students to read at a higher level, to interest them in math and keep them in school. Carson said people like to talk about the importance of education but often fail to demonstrate it in their own lives. Students see parents watch the playoff game rather than engage in educational pursuits, he noted.

“My mother was slavishly devoted to education,” Carson said. “She worked as a domestic in the homes of educated people, and she saw the effect of education.”

He also described how he made the most of education in his high school, where students were so disruptive that teachers spent more class time disciplining than teaching. “I went back after school and asked, ‘What were you planning on teaching today?’” Carson said he accepted responsibility for his own education.

“We need to teach young people that during slavery, it was illegal for a slave to learn how to read,” Carson said. “Don’t impose on yourself what a cruel society imposed on (your ancestors).”

Mitchell also asked if Carson was concerned that education has become segregated and unequal in the U.S.

“I know there are predominantly black schools where you can get an excellent education because there are people there who are extremely dedicated,” Carson said. “The thing that matters the most is not whether you are sitting next to someone of a different race. What matters the most is whether you have a teacher dedicated to excellence.”  

The average person lives to be 80 years old, Carson noted. The first 20 to 25 years you spend preparing yourself or not preparing yourself. “If you prepare yourself, you have the next 60 years to reap the benefits,” he said. “If you don’t prepare yourself, you have 60 years to suffer the consequences.”