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I remember reading Ben Carson’s Gifted Hands back in fourth grade. The follow-up to that was going to see the play at a local theater. Though lost on me at the time, I realize now that there was a reason why we were encouraged, as inner-city youth, to get into Ben Carson. He was someone the adults wanted us to look up to. He had “pulled himself up by his boot straps,” with the assistance of his illiterate mother and food stamps, of course. I was at the age where I was eager to collect role models, and I found most of them in books, so I kept Carson’s story in mind for encouragement, re-reading it on my own once or twice.

There were some parallels between Carson’s life and my own that might have drawn me to him. My mother was fairly strict, and even after she went to prison, my brother and I lived with a Seventh-day Adventist family who also had very conservative guidelines on how everyone should live. I spent most of my life in predominantly white schools, so I was no stranger to the toll racism can take on a student. The dwindling number of black classmates as the years progressed was also an indication. Unlike Carson, violence had never been an issue for me, and though my grades were not always the best, I was a bookworm and was praised heavily for it. Since most people around me didn’t read, it didn’t matter that I was mostly reading fluffy romance novels. Just being a kid that was willing to pick up a book meant something. Stories like Carson’s were comforting to me because I knew people measured my worth by how smart they believed me to be. Being smart meant that you were going places, though no one ever specified where those places were.

More… “The American Dream”

Kesia Alexandra is a freelance creative writer from Washington, DC. She can be found on Twitter @kesialexandra and Instagram @kesia_alexandra.
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