President Jimmy Carter talks poverty, cancer remission, and the - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

President Jimmy Carter talks poverty, cancer remission, and the next U.S. president

(SOURCE: Amelia Carlson/ WMC Action News 5) (SOURCE: Amelia Carlson/ WMC Action News 5)

America's 39th President is in Memphis helping Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis build 10 homes in North Memphis this week.

President Jimmy Carter took some time out from swinging hammers and lifting boards to talk with WMC Action News 5 about poverty, cancer remission, and the nation's next president.

"When I came to Memphis last year in November, I said, 'I'm coming back in August,'" Carter said. "I wasn't sure I was telling the truth. Luckily, I am."

Back then, Carter thought he had two weeks to live. Just shy of 92, cancer remission includes climbing ladders and hammering away at poverty for this former president.

He says Habitat is not a handout.

"The families have to pay the full cost of the house, and in addition have to put in 350 hours of work here in Memphis sometimes as much as 500 hours," Carter pointed out.  "We don't charge them any interest because the bible says when you lend money to a poor person, you don't charge interest."

Carter and his wife of 70 years could be seen holding hands on he North 3rd Street site in between doing the actual manual labor.

"We like to work side-by-side on our projects. We've done everything together for the last 70 years and so Habitat is a common commitment both of us have," he gushed.  "We also have shared partnership with the Carter s where we spend 95% of our time. I've reached at Emory University 35 years.  She's also a professor there.  We have a lot of things in common."

Carter said cancer remission made him more grateful.

"Every night I'm thankful I had another day of work and blessings and when I wake up in the morning, I feel special gratitude for God giving me a few more days," Carter said.

UNCUT: President Carter speaks with Kontji Anthony about project in Memphis

Carter says it's important for Habitat to go into the poorest parts of town. 

"People who own the houses all around begin to see how proud the homeowners are of their own house, how they take care of them, they mow the lawns, they don't commit graffiti on the house and keep the house painted and so forth," he said.  "It improves the quality of housing all around."

His mission to close the gap between the rich and the poor gap includes criminal justice reform similar to the ordinance a Memphis City Council committee passed Tuesday to decriminalize smaller amounts of marijuana.

"In 1979, I called for a decriminalization of marijuana, not the legalization of marijuana, but to make sure the people who were arrested with a small amount of marijuana wouldn't be sent to prison, but would be given medical treatment if they had an addiction to marijuana," Carter said.

He said the Habitat for Humanity cause is as great as choosing the next president, but that Republicans and Democrats work side-by-side building homes without talking politics.

"We've been through a very troubled relation year, I think unprecedented. We've come up with two nominees who, according to news reports, have very low opinion ratings among the voters," Carter said. "But, I've always been a Democrat and I'll be voting Democrat this year and I think as far as poor people and minorities and those who need confidence from the government, I think my choice will be the correct one."

Though Carter has lived a charmed life, he says it's important to think of others.

"Sometimes it's difficult for a person who has almost everything we need with a stable family, a house to live in, food to eat, to realize other people don't have that blessing or privilege and when we try to think of some way to help others through charity or a gift, I don't know anything that could compare to habitat," he said.

Carter calls Memphis one of the best Habitat programs in America and when he and Rosalynn leave, he asks that you consider volunteering or donating.

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