When Jenna Anker had a third-grade reading assignment, she randomly picked Dr. Ben Carson's autobiography. She soon found his poverty-to-success story so inspiring that she shared the book with her parents, sister and extended family.
Anker also sent Carson a letter. A month later, she received a booklet in the mail with a personal note from the world-renowned neurosurgeon. Since then, Anker, now 13, has been one of Carson's biggest fans, and she's anxiously anticipating his upcoming visit to Columbus.
Carson is scheduled to be in town on Monday as keynote speaker for the 2nd annual Sue Marie and Bill Turner Servant Leadership Gala at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center. Anker convinced her father, John Anker, owner of Ankerpak, to purchase four $150 tickets so the entire family could attend.
"She'd rather meet him than Justin Bieber or anybody like that," said her mother, Beverly.
Carson, a Detroit native, overcame inner-city poverty to become the first neurosurgeon to successfully separate Siamese twins. He recently retired as director of pediatric neurosurgery at John Hopkins University and has become a national political figure. Some conservatives even want him to run for president.
In his best-selling book, "Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story," Carson credits his success to
his mother who dropped out of school in the third grade and married at 13. After a divorce from his father, Sonya Carson struggled to raise Ben and his brother, Curtis, whose wife, Dr. Janice Carson, is from Columbus. She turned off the TV and made them read books when they began falling behind in school.
In the book, Carson also recalls having an anger problem that nearly landed him in jail. He tried to stab a boy but a belt buckle got in the way. It was then that he decided to turn his life around.
Anker, now an eighth-grader at St. Luke School, was a student at Calvary Christian School when she read Carson's autobiography. She said she was fascinated by his childhood experiences and couldn't put the book down.
"It was different than anything else I ever read and it was a true story," she said. "His mom couldn't read at all, but she still challenged him to do his best. Every little detail came together and led up to his big success."
Anker's sister, Ally, 15, said she had never seen her sister so engrossed in a book. So, she decided to read it herself. The family also shared the book with grandparents, an aunt and three cousins. In 2009, they all got together for movie night when Carson's life story aired as a TNT movie starring Cuba Gooding Jr. Popcorn was included.
Anker said she wrote Carson a letter to let him know how inspired she was by his story. She also included details about her life as a student and violinist. Her mother said she went to the mailbox every day expecting to get a letter in return.
"It finally came in a first-class envelope," Anker said. "I opened it up and I was so excited."
In his note, Carson told her to keep up the good work, and that his wife, Candy, is also a violinist. Now, Anker can't wait to see him in person.
"It's just a dream come true," her mother said. "We never thought she would meet him."