Lacks honors continue with dual events
Sign dedication, Praise Day held
The honors kept coming for Henrietta Lacks as local residents, elected officials and her family celebrated the “mother of modern medicine” with a street sign unveiling and community celebration last week.
The former Turner Station resident, whose unwittingly-harvested cells were used to develop treatments for some of the most serious diseases in history, died of cervical cancer in 1951 at the age of 31.
On July 29, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz (D-Baltimore County) was on hand to dedicate Main Street and New Pittsburg Avenue in Turner Station as “Henrietta Lacks Place” and declare the first Saturday in August as Henrietta Lacks Day in Baltimore County.
Just days later, on Aug. 1 — what would have been Lacks’ 97th birthday — state Sens. Johnny Ray Salling (R-6) and Shirley Nathan-Pulliam (D-44) were joined by members of the Lacks family, community residents and others to dedicate
Broening Highway between the county line and Maryland Avenue/Avon Beach Road as “Henrietta Lacks Way.”
The ceremony was held in the Logan Village Shopping Center, where a ceremonial sign was unveiled before the actual road sign was revealed by highway crews.
The move came after legislation co-sponsored by Salling and Nathan-Pulliam was passed into law during the 2017 General Assembly session.
In addition, Gov. Larry Hogan (R-MD) issued a proclamation declaring every Aug. 1 as Henrietta Lacks Day in the state of Maryland.
“Through her life and the medical advances gained by her immortal cells, diseases such as polio have been eradicated, and the human genome has been successfully mapped,” Gov. Hogan said in a statement. “This dedication sign will serve as a reminder for generations to come of the contributions to medicine made thanks to Henrietta Lacks.”
The ceremony included remarks from many speakers, including Salling, Nathan-Pulliam, Lacks’ son Lawrence Lacks Sr. and grandsons Lawrence Lacks Jr. and Alfred Lacks Carter and Henrietta Lacks Legacy Group president Courtney Speed.
Also on hand was Earl Lewis, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation.
The highway sign, Lewis noted in his remarks, will serve to ensure that Lacks’ “legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of future generations in the community she called home.”
In brief comments, Lawrence Lacks Sr. thanked everyone in attendance for the ceremony, noting, “It makes me proud to be the eldest son of Henrietta Lacks.”
But the honors did not stop there.
On Aug. 5, members of the Turner Station Heritage Foundation held the 20th annual Turner Station Praise Day Celebration at noon at Union Baptist Church.
Established 20 years ago by Courtney Speed and other community activists, the event serves as a homecoming for local residents to recognize Lacks and other outstanding community members.
The ceremony included Bible readings, hymns and remarks from several speakers, including resident Joyce Curbeam, Henrietta Lacks Legacy Group member Muriel Gray and Turner Station Heritage Foundation members and community activists Delmus Simmons and Courtney Speed.
Lacks’ grandson, David Lacks Jr., served as master of ceremonies for the event.
Proclamations were issued by Tony Baysmore, on behalf of County Executive Kamenetz, and Lyndra Marshall, chairperson of the Maryland Commission on African-American History and Culture, on behalf of Gov. Hogan.
The event also included prayers by Union Baptist pastor, the Rev. Eric Johnson, and a performance of the poem “Henrietta Lacks and her Immortal Cells,” by poet Elaine Olaoye, with Vance James on drums. Several of Lacks’ great-grandsons joined Olaoye in reciting her poem.
A highlight of the ceremony was the unveiling of an elaborate, colorful quilt telling the story of Henrietta Lacks and her legacy. The quilt was designed by documentary story quilter Dr. Joyce M.E. Gaither.
Following the ceremony at Union Baptist, attendees gathered at the former VFW post on New Pittsburgh Avenue for food, fellowship and fun.
A quilt designed by Dr. Joyce M.E. Gaither tells the story of Henrietta Lacks.
Elected officials, local residents and members of the Lacks family gathered to dedicate a portion of Broening Highway as Henrietta Lacks Way on Aug. 1.
Poet Elaine Olaoye recited her work, “Henrietta Lacks and her Immortal Cells,” with three of Henrietta Lacks’ great-grandsons. They were accompanied by Vance James on drums.
Lyndra Marshall (center), chairperson of the Maryland Commission on African-American History and Culture, presented a state of Maryland citation on behalf of Gov. Larry Hogan to (from left) Turner Station Heritage Foundation president Courtney Speed and Henrietta Lacks’ grandson David Lacks Jr.
Henrietta Lacks’ eldest son, Lawrence Lacks Sr., was flanked by (from left) Lawrence Lacks Jr. and Alfred Lacks Carter as he offered remarks on Aug. 1.