Lacks’ le­gacy hon­ored with street sign

Kamenetz de­clares Hen­ri­etta Lacks Day

The Dundalk Eagle - - FRONT PAGE - By NI­COLE RODMAN nrod­man@ches­pub.com

County of­fi­cials, area res­i­dents, mem­bers of the Lacks fam­ily and oth­ers gath­ered at the Flem­ing Cen­ter in Turner Sta­tion last Satur­day to un­veil a street sign ded­i­cated to the mem­ory of for­mer res­i­dent Hen­ri­etta Lacks.

Born in Vir­ginia in 1920, Lacks moved to Turner Sta­tion with her hus­band, who trav­eled to find work at the Beth­le­hem Steel mill. She would have five chil­dren, the youngest just four-and-a-half months old when she was

di­ag­nosed with an ag­gres­sive form of cer­vi­cal can­cer. Treated at Johns Hop­kins Hos­pi­tal (the only hos­pi­tal that would ad­mit African-Amer­i­can pa­tients), she died on Oct. 4, 1951, at the age of 31.

Un­be­knownst to ei­ther Lacks or her fam­ily, doc­tors at Johns Hop­kins took sam­ples of cells from her cervix. Th­ese cells, later dubbed “HeLa” cells, would prove to be uniquely pro­lific, so pro­lific, in fact, that they were used to de­velop treat­ments and cures for some of hu­man­i­ties most se­ri­ous dis­eases, in­clud­ing po­lio, can­cer and AIDS. The cells con­tinue to be used in med­i­cal re­search to­day.

Though her cells changed the course of med­i­cal his­tory, Lacks’ fam­ily was un­aware of their ma­tri­arch’s un­wit­ting con­tri­bu­tion un­til 20 years af­ter her death. In the decades since their dis­cov­ery, they have worked to spread Lacks’ story and gar­ner for her the recog­ni­tion she de­serves.

An­other step in that jour­ney came last Satur­day as Bal­ti­more County Ex­ec­u­tive Kevin Kamenetz and oth­ers ded­i­cated a street sign in Turner Sta­tion to Lacks.

The cer­e­mony was spon­sored by the county, Hen­ri­etta Lacks House of Heal­ing, the Hen­ri­etta Lacks Le­gacy Group, the Turner Sta­tion Her­itage Foun­da­tion, the Turner Sta­tion Con­ser­va­tion Teams, Johns Hop­kins and the Charles R. Drew Uni­ver­sity of Medicine and Sci­ence.

Speak­ers in­cluded Dr. Eva McGhee, pres­i­dent of the Hen­ri­etta Lacks House of Heal­ing, Dr. Adele New­son-Horst, vice pres­i­dent of the Hen­ri­etta Lacks Le­gacy Group and Glo­ria Nel­son, pres­i­dent of the Turner Sta­tion Con­ser­va­tion Teams.

Also on hand was County Ex­ec­u­tive Kevin Kamenetz, who pre­sented a ci­ta­tion declar­ing ev­ery first Satur­day in Au­gust as Hen­ri­etta Lacks Day in Bal­ti­more County.

“This is re­ally a great story about Turner Sta­tion, about a fam­ily and a com­mu­nity and a con­tri­bu­tion to sci­ence and a de­served recog­ni­tion,” Kamenetz told the Ea­gle. “This is an im­por­tant part of Bal­ti­more County’s his­tory.”

Many mem­bers of the Lacks fam­ily were in at­ten­dance at last week­end’s event, in­clud­ing Lacks’ old­est son, Lawrence, and grand­sons Lawrence Lacks Jr. and Al­fred Lacks Carter, among oth­ers.

In brief re­marks, Lawrence Lacks Sr. noted, “This is a nice day for a nice per­son.”

He thanked every­one in at­ten­dance for help­ing him “cel­e­brate my mother’s le­gacy.”

In her re­marks, Glo­ria Nel­son re­ferred to Turner Sta­tion as a “proud, his­toric com­mu­nity.”

“We’re a proud com­mu­nity, and this le­gacy con­tin­ues to go on,” she said, adding, “Turner Sta­tion is on the map, folks!”

Court­ney Speed, pres­i­dent of the Hen­ri­etta Lacks Le­gacy Group, re­called the day, 20 years ago, when Lacks’ daugh­ter Deb­o­rah told her that she “wanted the world to know who her mother was.”

“I can’t imag­ine she could have fore­seen this day,” Speed noted.

Fol­low­ing re­marks, Kamenetz, Speed, mem­bers of the Lacks fam­ily and oth­ers gath­ered to un­veil a cer­e­mo­nial street sign, marked “Hen­ri­etta Lacks Place,” at Main Street and New Pitts­burg Av­enue in front of the Flem­ing Cen­ter.

Af­ter the un­veil­ing, at­ten­dees were in­vited in­side the Flem­ing Cen­ter for re­fresh­ments and a screen­ing of HBO’s “The Im­mor­tal Life of Hen­ri­etta Lacks.” Vis­i­tors also got the chance to tour the for­mer Lacks home at 713 New Pitts­burg Av­enue.

In ad­di­tion to last week­end’s event, Lacks’ le­gacy will con­tinue to be hon­ored this Satur­day, Aug. 5, at noon dur­ing the 20th an­nual Turner Sta­tion Her­itage Foun­da­tion Praise Day Cel­e­bra­tion at Union Bap­tist Church, 105 Main Street.

Fol­low­ing the cer­e­mony, there will be an af­ter­noon of ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing food, in­for­ma­tional ven­dors, dancers, pony rides, chil­dren’s ac­tiv­i­ties, singers, mu­sic and more at the Com­mu­nity Post (for­merly the VFW) at 411-A New Pitts­burg Ave.

The fes­tiv­i­ties, held from 2 to 5 p.m., will also in­clude book sales and sign­ings by his­to­ri­ans Louis Diggs and Jerome R. Wat­son, and a pre­sen­ta­tion on “Beth­le­hem Steel His­tory” by for­mer steel­work­ers Len Shin­del and Phil Pack.

In ad­di­tion, the Hen­ri­etta Lacks Le­gacy Group will host its an­nual lun­cheon on Fri­day, Oct. 6, from noon to 3 p.m. at Mount Olive Bap­tist Church, 651 Mount Olive Road. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit hen­ri­et­ta­lack­sle­ga­cy­group.com.

PHO­TOS BY NI­COLE RODMAN

Dig­ni­taries, in­clud­ing (clock­wise from bot­tom left) Flem­ing Cen­ter di­rec­tor Cyn­thia Mingo, Lawrence Lacks Jr., Hen­ri­etta Lacks Le­gacy Group pres­i­dent Court­ney Speed, Bal­ti­more County Ex­ec­u­tive Kevin Kamenetz, Lawrence Lacks Sr. and county out­reach of­fi­cer Bryan Shep­pard, un­veiled the sign for Hen­ri­etta Lacks Place last Satur­day.

Un­der skies that threat­ened rain, a crowd gath­ered to honor the le­gacy of Hen­ri­etta Lacks.

A sign ded­i­cated to Hen­ri­etta Lacks was un­veiled at Main Street and New Pitts­burg Av­enue last Satur­day.

Hen­ri­etta Lacks’ grand­son Al­fred Lacks Carter (left), Hen­ri­etta Lacks Le­gacy Group pres­i­dent Court­ney Speed (cen­ter) and Bal­ti­more County Ex­ec­u­tive Kevin Kamenetz (right) cel­e­brated a procla­ma­tion declar­ing the first Satur­day in Au­gust as Hen­ri­etta Lacks Day in Bal­ti­more County.

PHO­TOS BY NI­COLE RODMAN

Hen­ri­etta Lacks’ grand­son, and Hen­ri­etta Lacks House of Heal­ing founder, Al­fred Lacks Carter (left), with House of Heal­ing pres­i­dent Dr. Eva McGhee (right), pre­sented Bal­ti­more County Ex­ec­u­tive Kevin Kamenetz (cen­ter) with a por­trait of Hen­ri­etta Lacks.

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