HH: The unlikeliest presidential candidate in 2016 was in fact a brain surgeon, and one of the most admired brain surgeons in America, Dr. Ben Carson. Dr. Carson, of course, didn’t receive the nomination, but he did forge a friendship with President Trump. And when asked to serve, he agreed to helm the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Dr. Carson, thank you for joining me.
BC: Thank you.
HH: Very quickly, you’ve gone to the front of the emergency response team to Houston. You’ve been down there to Houston. You’re now working on Florida. But take us back to Harvey and the aftermath. What did you see and how did it encourage your or discourage you about America?
BC: Well, I think probably the thing that was most impressive when I drove up to the convention center where they were housing a lot of hurricane refugees, there were signs up that said please, no more donations. We can’t handle any more. And when you went in there, just so much stuff, it was amazing, and volunteers, people coming out, but also in some of the neighborhoods that we were able to get into and just see all the stacks of debris in front of people’s houses, but that they were helping each other. Neighbors were going and we’re going to do this house, then we’re going to do and do this house. And that spirit of cooperation is wonderful, particularly in light of the division that we’ve seen in the country recently, because that’s now who we are.
HH: Do you think that division is overstated? I mean, the media loves…
BC: Oh, it’s not overstated, no.
HH: It’s not overstated?
BC: No, I mean, it, there really is a lot of division in this country, but it’s not because the people are bad people. It’s because people are stoking the fires. You know, somebody said something, and oh, do you hear that they say? You know, remember when you were in school in the third grade on the playground, and everybody was having a peaceful time, and then somebody would come up and say did you hear what he said about your momma? You know, that kind of thing is stoking the flames.
HH: Well, when you see a Harvey response, the response to Florida, the response to any kind of disaster, it makes me recall that the American people are generous and good.
HH: And that genuinely generous and good. You’re a man of faith. Do you believe that that faith animates most of that generosity?
BC: I think it has a lot to do with it, because you think historically, whenever there’s a disaster in the world, who’s at the front of the line to aid people? We are. And you look at the number of places that we have that give out aid, you look at the early history of this country when we had these incredibly rich people, the Vanderbilts, the Carnegies and Mellons, the Rockefellers, you know, in Europe, those people horded money and passed it down from generation to generation. What did the people in this country do? They built the Trans-Continental Railroad, the ports, the textile mills, the factories, promoted the growth of the most dynamic economy there ever was, built libraries and universities. You know, it’s the way we are. I think that’s one of the reasons that we rose to the pinnacle of the world in record time.
HH: We also had a small government. Now we have a large government. In fact, a couple of weeks ago, you got $15 billion dollars in relief aid for Harvey. I think half of that, or some amazing amount of money, went to HUD. Can you control the corruption that inevitably follows that much money from the federal government?
BC: Well, that is something that I’ve been working on very hard in the six months that I’ve been there putting safeguards into place. You know, we’re reimagining the way that HUD actually works and bringing personal responsibility to people in various segments. I believe you’re going to see a lot less of that from now on.
HH: Gosh, I hope you’re right. Let me ask you about a specific group. I always ask you about that.
HH: Adults with disabilities – housing them is very difficult. There is the Able Act. People are waiting for regs from HUD to do, I think, one thing if I understand it correctly, which is not count housing assistance from family against their Able Act mandated limits before they go off disability. When are those regs going to show up? What are you doing for this population which is expanding so quickly?
BC: Well, they’re being examined right now. We do recognize that there is a societal responsibility for a compassionate society which we are for those who are disabled, for those who are very elderly who can’t take care of themselves. And that will never be an issue as far as I’m concerned, certainly not while I’m there. So you know, I do recognize that there is some discrimination that’s going on in those areas. We are looking carefully into that to make sure that that is not going to happen. It’ll be taken care of.
HH: President Obama issued some controversial Fair Housing regulations that had to do with proving discrimination based on data, not based on actual intent. Are you revisiting those regulations, Dr. Carson?
BC: We are, because what has happened is that we’ve gone into communities that are quite peaceful, everybody’s happy, and we’re saying you have a problem with discrimination. And they say no, we don’t. Yes, you do, you just don’t understand that you have one. And we’re going to make you go through this whole exercise, and then we’ll find it, and then you’ve got to fix it. I think when we get to the point where we have no other problems that we have to deal with, maybe we could go there. But that’s not where we are.
HH: What is the animus behind the desire to find discrimination?
BC: Well, I think it has something to do with the divisiveness that’s going on. You’ve noticed that there are groups of people who tend to ascribe bad motives to everybody about everything no matter what it is. You know, you’re racist, you’re homophobe, you’re this folk or whatever, and just creating division. You know, a house divided against itself cannot stand. I think if we spent that same amount of energy looking at how we can do things, how we can improve the lives of everyone, and spend time helping people to understand that in this country, if we have more people who are successful, who are moving up the ladder of success rather than people that we are keeping under our thumb and helping them to believe that they are victims, I think we would be much better off as a nation.
HH: It might surprise some of my audience to know you draw thousands of people. When I was at Colorado Christian University, 4,000 people came to see you. You’re an inspiring person, because you came from nothing. You came from dirt poor poverty. Is HUD doing anything that you can quantify or articulate to help break cycles of poverty the way that you did?
HH: What’s it doing? Tell us about it.
BC: Well, one of our big initiatives are the Envision Centers. There’s a verse in the Bible that says without a vision, that people perish. Well, we want to give people a vision, because, and most of the communities that you go into, the public housing communities, you ask the kids what do you want to do when you grow up, you may get five answers, but there’s a thousand. These Envision Centers will inform them of the other 995 careers and how you get there. There will also be, a night is for mentorship programs. Many studies have shown that those kids who are mentored have a much higher high school graduation rate than those who do not.
HH: Did you come up with these Envision Centers? Is this a Ben Carson idea?
BC: This is something that has been with me for a very long time. But also, our friend, Steve Harvey, has been thinking about this.
HH: President Trump buying in?
BC: President Trump’s buying in. I haven’t found anybody, quite frankly, when you really explain the concept to them, who is not buying in. Democrats, Republican, you know, it’s not a partisan issue. It’s an issue of how do we develop all of our people? Everybody’s going to become part of the load, or part of the engine. The more people who are part of the engine, the faster we go, the better off we are.
HH: When, very shortly, when do Envision Centers start to pop up?
BC: We expect to open the very first one in Detroit before the end of this year.
HH: In Detroit, not in Ohio? You Michigan people…
HH: Dr. Ben Carson, thank you so much for joining me.
BC: Always a pleasure.
HH: A real pleasure.
End of interview.