Born into a poor family, renowned neurosurgeon Ben Carson ’73 attributes his achievements at Yale and beyond to a love of reading. Hoping to use his life story as inspiration, Carson has founded a new book club for New Haven students to discover reading.
The Ben Carson Yale University Book Club is an incentive-driven eight month program for students in grades two through six. The program represents a collaboration between the Carson Scholars Fund, Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs, the New Haven Public Library system, and Yale University, said Jim Welbourne, director of the New Haven Public Library system. A similar reading club on a smaller scale exists in Baltimore near where Carson lives and works, but the Yale book club will be his first attempt at a citywide reading campaign.
“Ben Carson is essential [to the success of the book club] because he’s a living African American neurosurgeon who came from poor circumstances,” Welbourne said. “He really talks directly when he speaks to kids. That brings the message home.”
Bernadette Strode, principal of Timothy Dwight Elementary School, said she thinks children can relate to Carson.
Launched officially through a full-page advertisement in the New Haven Register last Thursday, the program is in its first stages of attracting student applications. Claudia Merson, coordinator of the public school partnership from the Office of New Haven and State Affairs, said she expects about 2,000 students to sign up.
“The germs of the idea came after seeing the enormous community response to his speaking engagement here last April,” Merson said. “What was amazing was the impact he has intergenerationally.” Carson spoke to more than 2,000 Yalies and city residents last April at Woolsey Hall.
Welbourne said he appreciates Yale’s decision to pilot the reading program.
“If it wasn’t for the collaboration with Yale, we wouldn’t be able to do something on this scale,” he said.
A goal of the book club is to encourage reading at a young age so that it will become habitual. But the program is also about character building, Welbourne said. Each month, leaders emphasize a different aspect of Carson’s philosophy, “THINK BIG.” November focuses on “T,” which represents student talent. At the end of each month, students bring reading logs into the library and receive prizes based on points earned through reading, scoring high on tests, visiting the library, and reading to others.
In addition to reading and character building, Welbourne and Merson said they hope the program has further results, like the involvement of parents and family members in the program.
“For the children to excel academically, they really need the community’s support,” Merson said.
Welbourne said he expects the club to draw more children to the library and hopes that through the program and the increased library visitation, the library will draw more senior volunteers from the community.
“The book club is an outgrowth of the partnership with Yale,” Welbourne said. “If it works, it will be another tangible outcome of the New Haven Reads partnership with the library, schools and Yale.”