The Art of Passion

Dr Ben Carson and Mj

By M. J. Farah

On Saturday June 5, 2010, I attended Bunker Hill Community College’s (BHCC) graduation commencement.  Dr. Benjamin S. Carson, Director of the Division of Pediatric Neurosurgery at John Hopkins Hospital, was the keynote speaker.  On the stage, he appeared to be a very simple and disciplined man.   He seemed to capture and sustain the attention of the graduates in a very electrified manner, down to the last word of his poignant speech.  As I listened to Dr. Carson’s moving speech, I had an epiphany and my mind traveled back to an article I once read about the late Vivian Thomas.  Carson and Thomas both had their careers at John Hopkins University Hospital, only decades apart.  They did not only share the same skin color; they both had an exceptional passion for education.   They came from families with very humble backgrounds.  Despite the many challenges they faced, their burning passions for educational enlightenments carried them to becoming outstanding doctors.       

In 1930, a young African American Vivian Thomas was hired by a famous white doctor named Dr. Alfred Blalock.  Thomas, a professional carpenter, was hired as a lab assistant.  Although he never went to college, he had an enormous desire to learn and explore the power of knowledge.   Whenever Dr. Blalock vacated his office, young Thomas used to secretly study the medical books on the shelves of the office. 

Thomas developed a great interest in learning more and more about medicine when he started to assist Blalock during his practice surgeries on dogs.  While Dr. Blalock understood Thomas’s ability to help him perform a complicated surgery, he still did not accept Thomas as smart and equal because of the societal pressure of bigotry towards African Americans.   

Dr. Blalock wanted to continue to believe that Thomas was just a carpenter by profession and a lab assistant.  Employees, white or black, at the hospital could not understand that an African American, Thomas, could run the lab.  He was the first and thus a history maker. 

In those days, the society’s expectation of black people was merely to be janitors.  Despite this reality, Thomas’ cleverness, perseverance, and passion had created a need in Dr. Blalock’s mind. 

Thomas ran John Hopkins Hospital’s surgical lab under Dr. Blalock. At the time, all other black employees in the hospital were janitors.  Dr. Blalock and Thomas became a team and conducted a joint research that led to the first heart surgery performed at John Hopkins University Hospital in 1941.  

Many years later, Thomas’s contribution was recognized and he was eventually awarded an honorary doctorate, for his innovative work in the pioneering procedures using modern cardiac surgery. 

As he became Dr. Thomas, he also inspired and lifted the confidence of the future generation like Dr. Carson.   

Dr. Carson’s book, Gifted Hands: the Ben Carson Story; I remembered his mother’s words of advice when she said “Bennie, what’s inside counts the most. Anybody can dress up on the outside and be dead inside”.  

Your inner thinking and desire matter more than your outer display like the clothes you wear or the car you drive.  Dr. Carson spoke about the importance of education and the work of the community colleges. If you are at the bottom of the food-chain in the society, community colleges are the vehicles which you can use in order to turn your dreams into a reality. 

There are a huge number of students who are adding value to the development of the society because of the work of community colleges like BHCC, in Charlestown, MA.  As the first person in my family to have graduated from college, I can tell you the importance of having a dream or the passion to change within. The availability of financial aid and the existence of community colleges made my journey to educate myself into a reality.      

Dr. Thomas’s power of passion and his intellectual inquiry of excellence in medicine, have paved the way for people like Dr. Carson to be working in a prestigious medical school like John Hopkins Hospital.  

Dr. Carson’s poignant speech moved me to remember Dr. Thomas and his extraordinary service to humanity, particularly the people of color and women in this country. 

Dr. Carson spoke about helping others and spoke against wrongdoers.  He mentioned as an example of how the population in Germany did not speak up against murdering and gassing of innocent Jewish people in the Second World War.  Although Jewish people faced very painful ordeals, their passion for knowledge created a hope beyond their possibilities.

As a survivor of the civil war in Somalia, I have seen how leaders’ abuse of power could direct people to commit murder against innocent civilians, often neighbors and fellow human beings.  As I came to the United States, the land of opportunity, among other things I carried was a passion for knowledge.  

As Thomas pioneered the way for black folks to work at John Hopkins Hospital, Dr. Carson called on us to be honest and to help others, so that the future of humanity can be enhanced even further.    

At the end of the commencement, Dr. Carson’s speech renewed my optimism toward the future as he gave me a new direction in life, which is to do my best in serving people, especially the ones who are at the bottom of the ladder to achieve their full potential.

There is an African proverb that says ” Knowledge is like a garden: if it is not cultivated, it cannot be harvested.”

Like Dr. Carson who now uses his knowledge to inspire and lift others, I say that your knowledge is only beneficial if you use it for the betterment of humankind.

Are you ready to unleash the passion within?

**M. J Farah, M. Ed., is a financial aid counselor, lecturer, and a writer. He can be reached by email at:  .



About Mohamed J. Farah

***Mohamed. J. Farah, M. Ed., is an academic advisor, a writer, a lecturer and a contributor of http://
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