WASHINGTON, May 4, 2015 – Dr. Ben Carson announced today that he is a candidate for the 2016 presidency of the United States. His leadership pathway was forged decades ago in Detroit, Michigan as a high school ROTC cadet colonel, in a city still inflamed with anger and emotion from the 1967 riot.
In 1969, I was a young high school freshman, who had a father in the hospital dying. I thought of my dad’s pride of having two more of his sons embracing service to the nation by joining ROTC. Yet, the thought of walking into the high school ROTC class for the first time was intimidating.
The door to the ROTC room opened and I heard the sharp commands of cadet colonel Ben Carson. For ROTC cadets, Colonel Carson would be a mixture of discipline and education. As a black officer in a predominately black school, these cadets he commanded were a distinct minority in a school where the Black Panther Party followers were dominant and antagonistic.
In the city of Detroit at Southwestern High School in 1969, there was an environment where two wars of ideology were being fought. Riot and revolution faced off against America and Rev. King’s ideal of non-violence. The Detroit riot of 1967 which much like Baltimore, Maryland was still smoldering in the minds and hearts of black high school students.
Frustration, anger and alienation was being fueled by a radical Black Panther Party call to arms and was willingly embraced by many young black teens and adults as the correct revolutionary pathway to social justice.
For me, on that morning as a young ROTC cadet, I saw this tall slender ROTC Commandant of Cadets who reminded us of a better way, a more honorable way, to conduct ourselves.
Carson’s firm but calm demeanor then was similar to his announcement for president now. He was not loud or bellicose, like the words and angry pronouncements spilling out from the Black Panther Party leaders in the school and in the neighborhood.
That day and in the days that followed, he discussed an honor and duty that each of the cadets had to embrace for themselves to help themselves and the nation. At this first formal cadet formation, Cadet Colonel Carson laid out a litany of expectations and goals that he insisted were not his goals, but were to be our goals, if we were to ever leave high school and go further and higher in life.
While his words nourished this young cadet, I still thought of my father who was lying in a hospital bed and wondered how could words that were intended to nourish and train and create a pathway toward freedom from the neighborhood streets could truly be anything more than simply words. What Carson trained us to understand and even embrace was the notion that words do have power based upon constructive action.
Even as the black ROTC cadets were called “Uncle Toms” and at times much worse, the power of Carson’s words and his instructions and those of the other officers under his command moved about their training roles with the guidance he imparted. He was a leader who was teaching how to take command by first taking responsibility. When he made corrective suggestions to officers, sergeants and privates alike, it was done to improve and enhance the cadet.
As the months moved on, after the death of my father, I am reminded of a bible verse that was spoken in part in a variety of ways by Carson and our adult ROTC teacher regarding becoming a leader by being a person of honor. Luke 6:45 “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”
Before his high school graduation, Colonel Carson spoke to my Twin brother Evin and myself regarding the then recent death of our father. He reminded us of the choice we had made to enroll in ROTC instead of enrolling in the violence of hate and disorder in the streets. He said, that as young soldiers or as young leaders, each one could either commit to placing blame, making excuses, or be the best, because the nation needed the best that each could offer…no excuses accepted.
It is therefore no secret that Ben Carson cares so fervently and deeply for America. He has demonstrated that much like the teaching found in Luke 6:45, he has used his God given ability to help others. At the February 2013 Annual Washington D.C. Prayer Breakfast he stated, “I have come to realize that God does not want to punish us, but rather, to fulfill our lives. God created us, loves us and wants to help us to realize our potential so that we can be useful to others.”
On Monday, In Detroit, Ben Carson’s announcement for the presidency of the United States is done to help the nation fulfill its potential as God gives each American to do so, “So help us God.”