Honoring the legacy of Henrietta Lacks
19th annual Praise Day set for Aug. 6
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.