When Ivy League medical student Angel Charles wakes up in the morning, she has some breakfast.
And then she gives herself a much-needed pep talk in order to tackle the day.
“There are days when I just don’t want to go,“ she told theGrio.com.
Angel is one of a handful of black medical students at Cornell University. Inside her New York City apartment in Harlem, she has a collection of medical school books, but at times she needs something uplifting and turns to her impressive collection of books from African-American authors. Tucked away are books written by the well-known neurosurgeon, author and recent presidential candidate, Dr. Ben Carson.
“My mom actually put his book in my hand as a kid as a tool to motivate me because I told her I wanted to be a physician, and reading his story really did inspire me,” Charles said.
But times change. For Charles, Ben Carson is no longer her inspiration but a disappointment.
“You idolized him if you were a black kid going into this field, and it’s kind of realizing your superhero is flawed,” she said.
For Angel, the love for Carson changed after he started speaking for the Republican Party but especially when he started supporting Donald Trump.
Monday, Trump officially named Carson Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
“What he is doing now can not invalidate all the good that he’s done, but what he has said about Obamacare has been disrespectful to both Obamacare and the atrocities and devastation our people faced.”
Her husband, Aidan Charles, is also a medical student at Howard University and currently a fellow at Cornell University.
“I learned even if you look up to someone, you can’t really idolize them,” he said of Carson.
There was a time when Aidan was affectionately known as ‘baby Carson’ because of his goal to be a neurosurgeon. In fact, there was a time in his life when Dr. Ben Carson was who Aidan aspired to be.
That time has expired.
“I respect his political opinion for what it is,” Aidan concedes. “I don’t agree with it at all, but it was not what I expected him to believe. But I still think he’s done amazing things in the field of medicine.”
In 2013, at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., Carson essentially launched his conservative alter-ego when he offered a scathing critique of U.S. healthcare. President Obama and the first lady, Michelle Obama, sat just a few feet away.
Conservatives had found their black anti-Obama hero.
HUD is the government agency charged with, among other things, the task of finding people affordable housing.
The role will also call on Carson to establish policies that will affect the housing market. This comes as some experts are already sounding alarm bells forecasting another housing market crash on the horizon.
Carson, a Detroit native, has spoken on housing disparities in the past, criticizing the Obama administration’s efforts to address them. In 2015, Carson told the Washington Times:
It is true that the Fair Housing Act and other laws have greatly reduced explicit discrimination in housing, but significant disparities in housing availability and quality persist. To address them, the Obama administration’s new agency rules rely on a tortured reading of the Fair Housing laws to empower the Department of Housing and Urban Development to “affirmatively promote” fair housing, even in the absence of explicit discrimination.
Many African-Americans and people of color depend on HUD for subsidized housing and assistance as first-time buyers. According to HUD, 48 percent of public housing households are African-American. Unlike his predecessors, Carson’s previous experience is unrelated to the role. While not directly speaking about the position, Carson posted on Facebook:
In November, 2015, a Gallup poll ranked Ben Carson as the most-liked Presidential candidate in both party’s fields. His more public conservative turn over the course of several years, however, seems to have pushed him out of favor with African-Americans – especially those in the medical profession.
The Student National Medical Association (SNMA) is an organization that aims to support “current and future underrepresented minority medical students.” In a statement to theGrio.com, the group describes the ‘dilemma’ of being both inspired by Carson’s rise as a doctor and dismayed by his current politics:
A lot of students have voiced that they felt disappointed and kind of misled and let down. Many of us read his book ‘Gifted Hands’; we spent a lot of time kind of looking up to him as a figure, someone who was able to make it out of the community, who really had a dedication to serving the community and really caring about those who were undeserved. A lot of students have voiced that his policies and things that he has mentioned haven’t necessarily followed up to that.
A spokesperson from the Society of Black Academic Surgeons said Carson is “not the voice of the black surgeon” in America.
Dr. Deonza Thymes is a traveling emergency medicine physician and has been practicing for 13 years. She also is a board member of the Artemis Medical Society, which strives to celebrate and promote women physicians of color.
Like several of the black medical professionals theGrio.com interviewed, Thymes remembers reading about Carson as a kid.
“It was fascinating,” Thymes said. “He was definitely an inspiration to me at the time.”
Today, Thymes says she still respects Carson’s medical contributions and career, but says it’s difficult to make sense of his polices and personal statements.
“He was a phenomenal surgeon,” Thymes said. “African-American physicians, the whole concept is much larger than Ben Carson, so I don’t think anyone should anoint him the voice of African-Americans or African-American physicians.”
According to the The National Medical Association, less than 3 percent of the nation’s one million doctors and medical students are black. Thymes says the numbers are part of the reason why she still faces difficulty getting acknowledged as a doctor at work because “discharge patients will complain that they never saw a doctor even though I have a badge on and everything.”
Black doctors have cited similar situations as Thymes. It was highlighted even more after a black physician on an airplane took to Facebook to speak out against a flight attendant who prevented her from helping a patient in need because she did not believe she was a doctor. Afterwards, it prompted the hashtag #whatadoctorlookslike, where hundreds of black doctors posted pictures of themselves on social media.
Because there are few images of black doctors, there was also an uproar when Disney attempted to cancel the popular cartoon program “Doc McStuffins,” which featured a girl as a black doctor. The week after the election, Disney agreed to keep the show.
These incidents underscore the larger point: Successful black medical professionals matter. Carson’s career as a neurosurgeon and his accomplishments matter. He inspired an untold number of young people to pursue medicine and other fields.
As for Angel Charles, she is prepared to break barriers and work for her community, and as far as Ben Carson, her once-idol, “There are a lot of great black physicians in America; there are plenty of really good examples to talk to and learn from.”
Ashantai Hathaway is a reporter at theGrio. Keep up with her on Twitter @ashantaih83