Lacks family visit honors LCC
LCC’s “One Book #OneLCC” initiative had its finale April 21 when David Lacks Jr. and Jeri Lacks Whye, two grandchildren of Henrietta Lacks, hosted discussions, answered questions and signed books in a nearly full Dart Auditorium.
The presentation at Dart featured a slideshow of what HeLa cells have done for science, and her family’s journey in discovering what the cells have been used for. David Lacks Jr. and Jeri Lacks Whye are the children of David “Sonny” Lacks, Henrietta’s third oldest child.
Henrietta Lacks was a woman who died in 1951 from cervical cancer. Before she died, a sample of her cancer cells was taken without her knowledge.
The cells, named HeLa, never stopped growing in culture and have been used in numerous scientific contributions.
Some of these include breakthroughs in the Polio vaccine, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, AIDS research and vaccines for animals.
The Lacks family found out about these contributions about 20 years after the cells were taken.
Henrietta’s story has inspired discussion about several medical issues, especially that of informed consent.
“It instills a sense of pride,” Lacks said. “Like, wow my grandmother’s cells, which is a part of us, has accomplished all this, but it’s also … almost inconceivable of everything that her cells have done. It’s still hard to wrap your mind around that this one woman made a difference to the whole world unbeknownst to herself.”
According to Lacks Whye, the most important thing to remember about the HeLa cells is where they came from.
“(Henrietta) was an African-American woman who was a person,” Lacks Whye said. “So when you think of the HeLa cells, you have to know that it’s a person behind those HeLa cells … just be aware of her contributions to science and just be aware of who she was.”
Victoria Meadows, LCC library communications manager, said the Lacks Family visit was a great success.
“Jeri and David were gracious in sharing their family stories and memories, and in addressing questions raised by the audience,” she said. “From my perspective, this visit gave audience members an outlet for voicing honest concerns about serious social, racial, and ethical issues permeating today’s society.”
According to Lacks Whye, the Lacks family takes turns traveling to locations such as colleges, high schools and medical facilities to tell Henrietta’s story. She said between the years of 2011 to 2015, the family has went to over 100 events.
Lacks Whye said the goal of the family’s travels is to educate others in a positive manner.
“This is our platform to bring awareness to literacy, bring awareness to healthcare, bring awareness to education, ethical issues,” she said. “It’s very rewarding just to actually go out and speak and listen to how Henrietta, how our family, has a positive effect on the world.”
According to Meadows, next year’s selection for “One Book #OneLCC” is The True American by Anand Giridharadas.
For more information about LCC’s “One Book #OneLCC” initiative and Henrietta Lacks, visit www.lcc.edu/library/about/events/onebook.
CAPTION: Jeri Lacks Whye (left) and David Lacks (right) sign copies of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” at the opening reception on April 21.