Politics ruins everything it touches — even the name of renowned former neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
Last week, the Detroit school board voted to begin renaming several schools in the district, including the Benjamin Carson High School of Science and Medicine, dedicated to an “individual who has made a significant contribution of education,” the district said.
The board reserved the right to select another name for the school if it no longer reflects the “community of the geographic area where the school is located” or if “information newly discovered about the current name of the school is negative in nature.” And after voting 6 – 1, board members decided they would begin taking suggestions for a new name, though it won’t be officially changed until next year.
The reason: “Residents don’t support the [Trump] administration,” board member LaMar Lemmons said, according to the Detroit News.
Carson grew up in the inner city of Detroit in a 733-square-foot house on South Deacon Street, right by the Marathon oil refinery and two auto plants. He grew up in a poor but modest family, said his childhood friend Timothy McDaniels. But unlike so many Detroit kids, Carson wasn’t content to accept a position in an assembly line, now-attorney McDaniels told the Detroit News.
He worked his way to Yale University, earned a medical degree from the University of Michigan, and at the age of 33 became the youngest chief of pediatric neurosurgery in the country at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
“He knew his course,” McDaniel said. “And he stayed on it.”
Carson went on to perform the only successful separation of conjoined twins joined at the back of the head and pioneer the first successful procedure on a fetus still in the womb, revolutionizing the field of neurosurgery. His career has changed and saved lives.
Detroit’s school board wasn’t the only group to recognize Carson’s contribution to the medical and educational fields. In 2008, former President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the U.S. for his “tireless outreach to America’s youth” and ability to “underscore the importance of academic achievement.”
Carson’s is an example worth looking up to. He understands the economic and educational hardships many Detroit children face to this day, and his message to them remains true: “Success is determined not by whether or not you face obstacles, but by your reaction to them,” he wrote in his book “Gifted Hands.” “And if you look at these obstacles as containing fence, they become your excuse for failure. If you look at them as a hurdle, each one strengthens you for the next.”
The Benjamin Carson High School of Science and Medicine is one of many high schools in the U.S. named after living persons — 19 schools have been dedicated to former President Barack Obama. The trend is not unusual, but rescinding the name is.
Carson’s current position as President Trump’s Housing and Urban Development secretary has certainly repelled opponents of the administration, like Lemmons. But Lemmons’ disapproval of Carson is rooted in something deeper than his connection to Trump.
“He is a so-called conservative Republican. A strict constructionist is one that wants to take the Constitution literally. If one takes that as a stance, it would allow the enslavement of those of African descent. When you align yourself with Trump that is a direct affront to the city of Detroit and the students of Detroit,” Lemmons said in January.
Detroit’s school board members have allowed their political biases to render them narrow-minded and shortsighted. The school was named after Carson to celebrate his significant medical contributions. Did those disappear when he joined the Trump administration? Do his conservative beliefs erase his scientific achievements?
The school board will hold community meetings and complete surveys for each school site to select possible new names. If its members truly cared about educational achievements, they would recognize Carson for what he is: a figure who ought to inspire Detroiters of all ages.
Carson’s reputation speaks for itself, and Trump has nothing to do with it.
Kaylee McGhee is a George Washington Fellow and a senior studying Politics and Journalism.