Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon and West Palm Beach resident, kicked off a series of speeches Friday by five 2016 presidential contenders at the National Urban League's annual conference in Fort Lauderdale. The early-morning crowd was tepid at best in its reception of the soft-spoken Carson, a Republican and the only African American to speak to the largely black audience.
A LITTLE BIO: Carson talked about growing up "in the ghetto in Boston," in "dire poverty," as the son of a single mother who was one of 24 children, married at 13 and left her "bigamist" husband. "I remember thinking that I would probably never live beyond 25 years of age," he said.
'NASTY RUMOR': Speaking in the third person, Carson decried people who circulate a "nasty rumor" that he wants to do away with government safety nets that at some points helped his mother and his family. "The people who say that kind of stuff, they have an agenda, and they're trying to undermine and divide people," Carson said, adding that he wants "to provide a ladder to get people out of dependency."
THE ANTI-SOCIALISM CANDIDATE: Carson stressed entrepreneurship and tut-tutted "people who try to demonize" capitalism. He called for a six-month "hiatus" to let corporations bring back assets overseas without having to incur the corporate-tax rate.
LAUGH LINE: "I was a horrible student before my mother made us read books. And we were not happy about that. But back in those days you had to do what your parents told you."
ON RACISM: "There was racism," Carson said about growing up. "There still is. And there always will be, as long as there are people with small brains and evil forces to stimulate them." He recalled a nurse at Johns Hopkins University assuming he was an orderly rather than a doctor. He didn't blame her for her "ignorance," he said. Instead, Carson corrected her nicely -- "They would turn about 18 shades of read" -- and he'd have made a "friend for life."
SAYETH THE NEUROSURGEON: "You just have to understand where people are coming from," he said. "It's not the skin and the hair that makes them who they are. It's the brain that makes them who they are."