Ben Carson play aims to inspire

February 27, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- Students from three Washington County middle schools packed South Hagerstown High School's auditorium Friday to see a play depicting the true story of Ben Carson, who overcame hurdles of race, poverty and a single-parent home to become a world-renowned neurosurgeon.

"If he can do it, you can do it, and that's part of the message of this story," Washington County Superintendent of Schools Elizabeth Morgan told the students before the performance.

Theatrical Arts Productions, a Columbia, Md., acting company, has been performing the play for young people throughout the state for 15 years, said Melissa Rosenberg, executive director of the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts. Friday's performance and free copies of Carson's autobiography, "Gifted Hands," for the students were sponsored by the Delaplaine Foundation and Mike and Marlene Young of Smithsburg.

Marlene Young, who chairs the board of Maryland Life Magazine, said as soon as she saw other students' reactions to the play, she knew she wanted to help share it with as many young people as possible.


"I couldn't wait to have kids in Washington County see this inspiring play that shows that you can really overcome any obstacle if you believe in yourself, you work hard and you hold fast to your dreams," Young said.

About 800 students from E. Russell Hicks, Northern and Western Heights middle schools attended the performance.

The play, "Ben Carson, M.D.," was adapted by Carole Graham Lehan from Carson's autobiographies. It uses a minimalistic set and only five actors to present a series of defining moments in Carson's transformation from a quick-tempered, inner-city youth to director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

In one scene, an elementary school-aged Ben brings home a report card with failing grades, and his mother, Sonya Carson, tells him he has to start studying and reading instead of going outside after school.

"You aren't living up to your potential, so I'm going to see to it that you do," she tells him.

Morgan said that kind of support was part of what helped Carson overcome the odds stacked against him.

"He didn't grow up with a lot of money, but what he did grow up with was a mom, people around him, and teachers who said, 'Ben, you can be somebody someday. Don't get off track,'" Morgan said, adding that she hopes students get the same type of encouragement from their parents and teachers.

In the play, Ben also faces teasing from his classmates, racial prejudice and even threats on his life. In a discussion after the play, cast members explained that Carson's positive attitude helped him deal with those obstacles.

"If we choose to see the obstacles in our path as barriers, we stop trying," Carson wrote in "Gifted Hands." "However, if we choose to see the obstacles as hurdles, we can leap over them."

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