WASHINGTON, D.C.: At 14, Ben Carson tried to stab a classmate. Had the boy’s metal belt buckle not stopped the blade, Carson would probably be in prison.
Instead, he is running for president of the United States.
The incident leaves audiences speechless when Carson tells it at conservative gatherings, an opportunity for him to show how faith and family values helped a drifting teenager escape poverty’s grip and find the internal strength to realize his dream of becoming a doctor.
“That was the last day I had an angry outburst,” the Seventh Day Adventist said recently.
Carson, who turns 64 on Friday, has little reason to be cross these days. In a dramatic surprise in the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign, Carson has surged to second in the polls, nipping at frontrunner Donald Trump’s heels.
He is the only African-American Republican in the race, and like billionaire Trump he has never held public office.
But while both are praised by supporters for their authenticity, Carson is often referred to as the “anti-Trump”: reserved and thoughtful, instead of impulsive and bombastic.
Carson is the most discreet of the 16-candidate Republican field, as evidenced during Wednesday’s debate, in which he struggled to stand out but delivered a calm, even-keeled performance that is rapidly becoming his trademark.
Carson’s history is the epitome of the American dream. He grew up poor in Detroit and Boston, raised by an illiterate mother who married at age 13 but left her bigamist husband.
Young Ben earned poor marks at school and had a quick temper. But his mother, who scraped by doing low-wage work, prioritized her sons’ education.
The turning point came when she forced Carson and his brother to read two books each week and submit book reports to her — even though she could not read them.
Carson grew into a model student, earning a scholarship to Yale University and attending University of Michigan medical school.
At age 33 he became the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University. He earned global acclaim in 1987 by leading a 70-person team that performed the first successful separation of twins, two seven-month German boys who were joined at the head.
George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2008 and Carson’s high-flying medical career became the subject of a television movie, “Gifted Hands,” starring Cuba Gooding Jr.
Carson has authored six books, from the spiritual to the motivational and, in 2014, a best-selling guide to problem-solving in US political discourse. He retired in 2013 to hit the conservative talk circuit.
He became a sought-after speaker. On stage, his affable delivery is punctuated with anecdotes, jokes, life stories and passages from the Bible.