Ben Carson, the world renowned neurosurgeon who has been rising on the political stage in recent months, emphasized the importance of education and patriotism Monday during a rousing speech at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center.
Carson, who came to town with his wife, Candy, was the keynote speaker for the Pastoral Institute's Sue Marie and Bill Turner Servant Leadership Gala. He said he was delighted to be in Georgia, where "it seems there are a lot of clear-thinking people."
Early in his speech, he said that he doesn't mince words and blamed the media and politicians for divisiveness in the public arena.
"Let me just take a brief moment here for a disclaimer," he said. "And that is just to let you know that I'm not politically correct, so it is possible that I might offend somebody.
"It's not my intention, but I don't believe in political correctness and, in fact, I think it's one of the most destructive forces in American society," he added. "I think our (forefathers) would probably turn over in their graves if they could see what was going on. You have people trying to drive wedges in every crack in our society, be it age, be it race, be it income, be it gender, it doesn't matter."
Carson spoke to an audience of about 1,000 people who gave him thunderous applause. The tickets were $150 per individual and $2,500 per table. Many people stood in line for a book signing after the event.
Carson, a darling of political conservatives, has become a lightning rod in recent weeks because of comments he made about the Affordable Care Act and other controversial issues. At a recent Value Voter's Summit, he called Obamacare the worse thing that has happened to the nation since slavery. He was recently hired by Fox News as a contributor.
On Monday, the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People denounced Carson's visit to town and called on the community to boycott the event. Nate Sanderson, president of the local chapter, said Carson owed the nation an apology.
"There is legitimate debate on Obamacare," he said. "But there is no debate in comparing Obamacare to slavery."
But at the dinner Carson was received with open arms. Ron King, executive director of the Pastoral Institute, said he had no comment about the controversy. He said the night was meant to focus on the achievements of Sis and Jim Blanchard, who received the Sue Marie and Bill Turner Servant Leadership Award. The couple was recognized at the dinner for their involvement in Teen Challenge, a faith-based program that helps young adults battling addiction and behavior issues.
They were also praised for their involvement in weekly Bible classes and the professional development of many community leaders.
Organizers presented a video highlighting the couple's contributions to the community.
It featured their sons, grandchildren and community leaders, who praised their accomplishments.
Carson, who recently retired from Johns Hopkins University, is the first neurosurgeon to successfully separate Siamese twins.
He's the author of five books, including his best-selling autobiography, "Gifted Hands." In 2009, his poverty-to-success story premiered on TNT as a television movie.
During the gala Monday, Carson said America has lost its status as a great nation because of the "secular progressives" who have taken God out of schools, lowered the standards of education and manipulated the masses. And he challenged the audience to push for change.
"In this country, 30 percent of people in high school do not graduate," he said. "Forty percent of people who go to college on a four-year program do not graduate in four years. Large numbers of them have to take remedial courses. What is happening to us? We make a lot of good excuses for people, we don't hold people's feet to the fire. We accept the excuses."