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GOP presidential hopeful Ben Carson stumps for votes at Harlem's venerable Sylvia's Restaurant

Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson, left, walks

Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson, left, walks through Harlem with John Burnett, right, an advisor with the New York State Republican Committee, on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015. Carson came to Harlem to meet with business, community and religious leaders to discuss his vision for an inclusive and revived America. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson stumped Wednesday in historically black Harlem, dining at a landmark soul food restaurant usually reserved for Democratic gatherings and impressing luncheon attendees with his candid talk on race.

Carson, whose poll numbers have climbed since his performance last Thursday in a nationally televised GOP debate, blamed the erosion of family values for the struggles of young black men in America.

"Of course, black lives matter," he told reporters when asked about the rallying cry of a movement against police brutality that began after the death of Trayvon Martin in Carson's current home state of Florida.

But the retired neurosurgeon did not mention the role of police in several well-publicized cases. He said homicide is the leading cause of death among young black inner-city males "and most of those occur at the hands of other young black males."

Carson -- the only black candidate in the 2016 campaign -- hosted the event at Sylvia's Restaurant.

"We need to be talking about 'How do we instill values in people again, so they do in fact believe that their brother's life matters?' " Carson said after the gathering of 50 predominantly black Republicans.

Carson was raised poor in Detroit. He went on to work as a pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He earned applause in last week's prime-time debate when he said he was the only candidate "to take out half of a brain -- although you would think if you go to Washington that someone had beat me to it."

Carson is in second place -- with 14 percent to Donald Trump's 22 percent -- among GOP presidential hopefuls, according to a CNN/ORC International poll of Republican likely caucusgoers in Iowa released Wednesday.

Asked in Harlem why black Americans vote overwhelming for Democrats, Carson cited dependency on social services championed by Democratic leaders. The black community would be transformed by policies that encourage "upward mobility as opposed to dependency," he said. "Let's not be satisfied to be patted on the head and kept like a pet."

Lolita Ferrin, a Republican district leader on the Upper West Side, said Carson appeals to her because "his answer is family and education."

John Burnett, a strategic adviser to the state Republican Party and a former city comptroller candidate, said he believes Carson is as viable as any GOP candidate could be in Democratic-dominated New York City.

"He speaks empowerment, not just politics," Burnett said.

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