04 Ben Carson official portraitI have finally reached the point that nothing, no matter how senseless, surprises me. Consequently, the content of an article by Juliet Linderman titled “In the city that claims him, Ben Carson falls from grace,” was no exception. Baltimore, Maryland, is the city where Dr. Ben Carson spent years as a renowned pediatric neurosurgeon. Rising to that level of professional achievement was quite an accomplishment. His achievement is even more amazing and instructive because he grew up poverty-stricken in a home headed by his single mother. 

Now, as secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Trump administration, Carson is under attack by some citizens of Baltimore. The article referenced above clearly indicates that most, if not all, of the criticism is from black citizens of the city. 

Carson’s support of the Make Affordable Housing Work Act, which requires congressional approval, embodies much of what underlies his fall from grace in Baltimore. The act is summarized as follows in an article by Juliet Linderman and Larry Finn titled “Analysis: HUD plan would raise rents for poor by 20 percent.” It states, “The ‘Make Affordable Housing Work Act,’ announced April 25, would allow housing authorities to impose work requirements, would increase the percentage of income poor tenants are required to pay from 30 percent to 35 percent, and would raise the minimum rent from $50 to $150 per month. The proposal would eliminate deductions, for medical care and child care, and for each child in a home. Currently, a household can deduct from its gross income $480 per child, significantly lowering rent for families.” Beyond Carson’s support of this legislation, his serving in the Trump administration is also a source of opposition. Linderman’s “Fall from grace” article referred to in the first paragraph includes the following: “The Trump virus is weakening Ben Carson’s image,” said Bishop Frank Reid, a former pastor at Baltimore’s Bethel AME Church who met Carson at Yale, where both received their bachelor’s degrees. Carson is still respected, Reid said. “But he is no longer the hero he once was.”

Linderman reports several incidents and comments that reflect the depth of Ben Carson’s rejection by black citizens of Baltimore. Some appear below:

  • Alicia Freeman, principal of Archbishop Borders School, moved a portrait of Carson from a very public area of the school to the Ben Carson Reading Room – a far less visible space. Of the principal, Linderman writes: “‘The doctor’s inspirational message now feels hostile,’ she said.”
  • Boateng Kubi, a rising second-year student at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, is quoted: “‘It feels like he’s neglecting the communities he came from, the people who grew up admiring him, who might not have all the money in the world,’ he said. ‘I no longer speak of wanting to be the next Ben Carson.’”
  • “Shaun Verma, a Ben Carson Scholarship recipient from Georgia, says Carson’s use of his story of hard work and determination to justify scaling back the safety net for the same communities that raised and revered him ‘is really disappointing.’

 ”The writer goes on to detail other actions and attitudes among Baltimore’s blacks that show Carson’s fall from grace. It is stated that Carson declined to be interviewed for the story but sent a written statement that is presented in the article as follows: 

“I understand what it means to be poor because I grew up poor,” the statement said. “I was fortunate to have my mother who was my compass – always steering me on course, helping me to see beyond our circumstances. That’s what I hope to do for the millions of low-income families HUD serves.”

As I read and process Carson’s statement, my thought is that here is a black man who found his way through poverty, and any hindrances because of his blackness, to absolute greatness and success. Given this fact, the question to be asked by those in poverty, and those who claim to want to help them, should be: “How did Carson make it and what might we learn from his journey?” 

Instead, the response is to attack and seek to punish him for, in attempting to move people out of poverty, supporting actions and policies that are consistent with what he learned along his journey from poverty to financial independence.

Given that there is so much opposition to the Carson approach, the other reasonable question is what should we expect if we stay on the current course that is so totally supported by those who oppose Carson’s method? Even though the article by Kay S. Hymowitz titled “The Black Family: 40 Years of Lies” is from the summer of 2005, the segment below provides a crystal-clear framework for answering the expectation question:

“Read through the megazillion words on class, income mobility, and poverty in the recent New York Times series ‘Class Matters’ and you still won’t grasp two of the most basic truths on the subject: 1. entrenched, multigenerational poverty is largely black; and 2. it is intricately intertwined with the collapse of the nuclear family in the inner city.

“By now, these facts shouldn’t be hard to grasp. Almost 70 percent of black children are born to single mothers. Those mothers are far more likely than married mothers to be poor, even after a post-welfare-reform decline in child poverty. They are also more likely to pass that poverty on to their children. Sophisticates often try to dodge the implications of this bleak reality by shrugging that single motherhood is an inescapable fact of modern life, affecting everyone from the bobo Murphy Browns to the ghetto ‘baby mamas.’ Not so; it is a largely low-income – and disproportionately black – phenomenon. The vast majority of higher-income women wait to have their children until they are married. The truth is that we are now a two-family nation, separate and unequal – one thriving and intact, and the other struggling, broken, and far too often African-American.”

A graph at https://www.statista.com/statistics/205114/percentage-of-poor-black-families-with-a-female-householder-in-the-us/ shows the following poverty rates for households headed by a single black female: 1991– 51.2 percent; 2000 – 34.3 percent; 2014 – 37.2 percent; 2016 – 31.6 percent. Looking back to 1991, as compared with recent years, there is impressive improvement. However, the more recent picture says we need a far more productive response to poverty than has been the case. 

All Americans, not only those black citizens in Baltimore who oppose Carson, need to thoughtfully assess poverty in America and reasonably come to grips with causes and effective solutions. A step forward in that process would be to hear Carson with an open mind and appreciate him for what the lessons learned along his journey from poverty allow him to bring to the table.

Photo: Dr. Ben Carson

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