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  • Jerome Kocher

36. The Captain of Our Ship

Updated: Jul 19, 2021

When I was a sophomore in high school, my dad also went back to high school. He had never graduated. Like my mother, they both grew up in a rural farming community in southern Illinois where 8th grade was the highest education offered. And besides, one of the reasons to have children was to produce labor for the farm. That’s why traditional Summer School Breaks in the United States can be three months long. Children were needed to help bring in the hay and manage the peak summer work load on the family farm. Of course that has all changed today, except some traditional school schedules still follow that agricultural model.

But this is not about my Dad. Nor Summer. But it is about the value of education. The following thoughts were inspired by listening to an interview with Dr. Ben Carson. Most of you already know his story, or should. He and his brother grew up in the housing projects of Detroit. His father was 28 when he had married his mother at age 13. Ben didn’t realize that some of the people he visited as a child with his father were actually step-siblings of his dad’s other family within the same city. This would not end up well.

After the divorce, his mother moved them to Boston, where Ben survived, but two of his cousins were murdered. They then returned to Detroit. His single mother cleaned houses in the wealthier part of town to keep a roof over their head and food on the table. She observed that in these homes people “read books.” So she figured that reading must have something to do with their success as well as education. She therefore required that her sons read two books a week and write a book report on each. She then graded them with check marks on their papers. Television was limited if not off limits. Too passive. Educate yourself with reading. Create your own imaginations instead of absorbing those on TV.

And it worked. After a year and a half little Ben went from a ‘D’ student to the top of his class. Later, while he was in high school, his mother also went to high school to get her GED. What the brothers didn’t know earlier was that their mother couldn’t read. Her grading of their book reports in grade school used check marks to mask her illiteracy. She had loved her sons and wanted them to achieve where she couldn’t. Reading was that path.

And through all this she taught them not to be victims, but responsible for their own actions, regardless of any existing racism they encountered. Ben grew up to be a world renowned brain surgeon and his brother managed nuclear submarines and later became an engineer in the Navy.

Ben later became the youngest Chief of Pediatric Surgery in the U.S. at John Hopkins School of Medicine at age 33. He was a professor of neurosurgery, oncology, pediatrics, and plastic surgery. He made headline news in 1987 when he was the first to separate two congenitally born twins at the back of the head. He was praised as the icon of success following his book and movie of the same name “Gifted Hands.”

But then he was disowned by that same media when he started speaking about the principles by which his mother raised him. He was a Black Conservative and that was considered a betrayal to the liberal left. Worse yet, he dared to run for president. His soft spoken, calm and rational demeanor was exactly what medical surgery demanded, but it was not the ‘red meat’ required in politics. So he couldn’t muster voter support. But he did engender respect and admiration. He still speaks with an authentic narrative born of personal experience, although counter to the public media driven narrative.

A sample of Ben Carson’s thought:

One way Blacks survived slavery and later Jim Crow discrimination was their strong bond of family and faith. But Carson goes further, to claim that the Great Society War on Poverty under LBJ in the mid 1960’s created a welfare state that de-incentivised fathers to remain in Black families creating a cultural disintegration in the Black community leading to fatherless youth with its resultant crime and unemployment and emphasis on victimhood.

My note: Let’s not forget that the Civil Rights Movement was led by Christian ministers. Black churches were their usual safe havens of assembly. Their rhetoric was imbued with biblical images, even MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech where the inference is clear that he, like Moses, is leading his people to the Promised Land. He’s been to the mountaintop and seen . . . even though he may not make it himself.

Gifted Hands tells the Ben Carson story, archetypal in its sense of raising oneself up by personal responsibility. All of us are imprinted with our childhood experiences. Family. Religious. Secular. Or lack thereof. Under close examination one can see how the seeds planted earlier bear fruit in our personality and life today.

Let me close with a poem that Ben Carson’s mother embedded into her children’s hearts and minds. This reminded them that they are the agency of their own destiny and not to blame anyone else. It’s also a reminder that each of us is . . . “The Captain of our Ship.”

If things go bad for you

And make you a bit ashamed

Often you will find out that

You have yourself to blame . . .


Whatever happens to us,

Here is what we say

“Had it not been for so-and-so

Things wouldn’t have gone that way.”


And if you are short of friends,

I’ll tell you what to do

Make an examination,

You’ll find the faults in you…


You are the captain of your ship,

So agree with the same

If you travel downward

You have yourself to blame.

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BlueFlame NoenDragon
BlueFlame NoenDragon
Jul 28, 2021

Catherine Torres - Thank you for this reminder that we choose to become out of what we create all the decisions and at the same time rediscover our curiosity that has lead to question about our own way of life through education and our self development. Even in the darkest hour, we have in our own way to break this cycle of indifference and guilt into a pathway of solutions in the most human way possible to understand life itself. And even through our own weaknesses can be our opposite strengths. The same way we view our world. Give the chances back to the work and loyalty into the love of humanity. We solve this confusion and mass destruction of…

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