Honor­ing the legacy of Hen­ri­etta Lacks

19th an­nual Praise Day set for Aug. 6

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

One of the most im­por­tant fig­ures in 20th cen­tury med­i­cal his­tory once lived in Turner Sta­tion.

In re­cent years, the story of Hen­ri­etta Lacks has been spread across the globe, though her legacy has been cel­e­brated in Turner Sta­tion for decades.

The com­mu­nity will once again honor a home­town hero dur­ing the 19th an­nual Praise Day Cel­e­bra­tion at Union Bap­tist Church, 105 Main Street, on Satur­day, Aug. 6, at noon.

Turner Sta­tion res­i­dent Hen­ri­etta Lacks was just 31 when she died of a par­tic­u­larly ag­gres­sive form of cer­vi­cal cancer in 1951.

While be­ing treated at Johns Hop­kins Hos­pi­tal (the clos­est hos­pi­tal to ad­mit African-Amer­i­can pa­tients), a sam­ple of Lacks’ cer­vi­cal cells was taken with­out her or her fam­ily’s knowl­edge or con­sent.

These cells, prov­ing them­selves to be un­usu­ally pro­lific, would out­live their un­wit­ting donor.

The HeLa cell line would be used to de­velop mile­stone treat­ments for con­di­tions such as po­lio, cancer, in­fer­til­ity and AIDS.

These ad­vance­ments would go on to make bil­lions of dol­lars, yet the Lacks fam­ily never saw a dime. Some mem­bers of the fam­ily still live in Turner Sta­tion, not far from the New Pitts­burg Av­enue home that Lacks oc- cu­pied un­til her death.

In fact, the fam­ily didn’t even know the truth about HeLa cells un­til two decades af­ter their ma­tri­arch’s death. The pub­lic knew lit­tle of Lacks’ legacy un­til the pub­li­ca­tion of Re­becca Sk­loot’s best­selling 2010 book “The Im­mor­tal Life of Hen­ri­etta Lacks.”

Now, Lacks’ story is set to be­come an HBO movie star­ring Oprah Win­frey as Lacks’ daugh­ter, Deb­o­rah, and Sk­loot’s book is re­quired read­ing in class­rooms and book clubs across the globe.

But, here in Turner Sta­tion, com­mu­nity and fam­ily mem­bers have long hon­ored Lacks’ legacy with the an­nual Praise Day Cel­e­bra­tion. This year marks the 19th year for the event.

As in years past, the cel­e­bra­tion will be­gin with a cer­e­mony at Union Bap­tist Church at noon. The event is al­ways held on the first Satur­day of Au­gust in honor of Lacks’ birth­day on Aug. 1.

This year’s event, spon­sored by the Turner Sta­tion Her­itage Foun­da­tion, will be hosted by the Lacks fam­ily, with grand­son David Lacks Jr. serv­ing as mas­ter of cer­e­monies.

The theme of the cel­e­bra­tion is “Home­com­ing 2016 for the Na­tion of Turner Sta­tion.”

“The main thing we would like to em­pha­size with this [cel­e­bra­tion] is fam­i­lies com­ing to­gether,” ex­plained Hen­ri­etta Lacks Legacy Group pres­i­dent Court­ney Speed.

She added that the fes­tiv­i­ties will “em­pha­size, as our pioneers did, keep­ing the fam­ily to­gether spir­i­tu­ally, fi­nan­cially and morally.”

This year’s cel­e­bra­tion will be ex­clu­sively fo­cused on Lacks, un­like pre­vi­ous years’ events which high­lighted other no­table fig­ures as well.

The cer­e­mony at Union Bap­tist will in­clude mu­sic, prayer, Bi­ble read­ings and a procla­ma­tion from Lyn­dra Mar­shall, chair­man of the Mary­land Com­mis­sion on African-Amer­i­can His­tory and Cul­ture.

The event will also serve to raise do­na­tions for sev­eral lo­cal projects, in­clud­ing ef­forts to com­mis­sion a Hen­ri­etta Lacks fig­ure for the Na­tional Great Blacks in Wax Mu­seum in Bal­ti­more and a push to turn Lacks’ for­mer home at 913 New Pitts­burg Av­enue into a mu­seum.

Fol­low­ing the cer­e­mony, the cel­e­bra­tion will con­tinue at the Com­mu­nity Post (for­merly the VFW field) at 411-A New Pitts­burg Ave.

Ac­tiv­i­ties from 1:30 to 5 p.m. will in­clude food ven­dors, in­for­ma­tional re­sources, pony rides, chil­dren’s games and a pre­sen­ta­tion on “The His­tory of the Civil Rights Move­ment at Spar­rows Point” by re­tired CCBC di­rec­tor of La­bor Stud­ies Bill Barry.

Books by lo­cal au­thors Louis S. Diggs (“From the Mead­ows to the Point”) and Jerome R. Wat­son (“The Churches of Turner Sta­tion,” “Im­ages of Amer­ica — Turner Sta­tion”) will be avail­able for pur­chase; Diggs will be on hand to sign copies.

For more in­for­ma­tion on the 19th an­nual Praise Day Cel­e­bra­tion, visit www. hlacks.com.

For­mer Turner Sta­tion res­i­dent Hen­ri­etta Lacks will be hon­ored at the 19th an­nual Praise Day Cel­e­bra­tion on Aug. 6.

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