Henrietta Lacks
Henrietta Lacks (Courtesy of The Henrietta Lacks Foundation)

Aug. 1, 2022, marked 102 years since the death of Henrietta Lacks. To commemorate the milestone event, the Lacks estate held a commemorative celebration event in Washington, D.C., that included a book signing, arts presentations and educational content and an expert panel on the topic of genetic justice.

I was invited to the celebration event by Angela Harris, who is currently serving as head of the estate’s business affairs. In a recent interview, she shared details of the celebration, which featured a book signing by author Ron Lacks, the eldest grandson and estate executor who authored the book, “Henrietta Lacks: The Untold Story.” The program also focused on showcasing Henrietta Lacks as a woman, beyond just a cell line.   

In front of a sold-out crowd, the event began with a robust discussion with Lacks, moderated by Angela Harris. They were joined in discussion by civil rights attorney Ben Crump.

The program concluded with a panel discussion on genetic justice, presented by event co-sponsor IndyGeneUS Global Health, that featured scholars and genetic professionals.

In between was a series of presentations including a poem authored and read by spoken word artist Yahney-Marie Sangare and a presentation of a painting by visual artist Patcasso. The evening ended with the singing of “Happy Birthday” led by international recording artist Sylver Logan Sharp.

A panel discussion on genetic justice opened with a video welcome from Dr. Helene Gayle, president of Spelman College, and was moderated by Madia Logan, CMO of IndyGeneUS Global Health. The panel members were Dr. Bradford Wilson of IndyGeneUS Global Health; Dr. Gina Paige, founder and CEO of African Ancestry, Inc.; Lauren Kornegay, founder and CEO of ENDOBlac; Cherissa Jackson, “America’s Combat Nurse”; and Southern University law professor Deleso Alford.

The event was co-sponsored by IndyGenUs Global Health CEO Yusuf NKrumah Henriques with event assistance from Zakiya Worthey of KLamb Consulting.

Earlier this year on May 17, the family of Henrietta Lacks, finally had their day in court. Her last remaining child, Lawrence Lacks, and Ron Lacks were front and center along with family members to be heard in the matter of a lawsuit filed on their behalf by attorneys Crump and Christopher A. Seeger. The Maryland Matters News, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news website, reported “The fate of the lawsuit filed by the estate of Henrietta Lacks against a biotech company for non-consensual use of her cells hangs in the balance as a judge considers if and how Maryland’s statute of limitations would apply.”

By the end of the roughly two-hour hearing in Baltimore, U.S. District Court Judge Deborah L. Boardman said it was difficult to take the “extraordinarily unique facts” of the case and apply them to the law.

Thermo Fisher Scientific, a multibillion-dollar biotech company has been making money for decades, and not including the Lacks family, therefore, the Lacks family is suing, over its use of her living cell samples that were collected without her knowledge or consent during a medical procedure in 1951.

Further, in the lawsuit filing, the Lacks estate alleges that Thermo Fisher Scientific is actively participating in unjust enrichment or profiting from her genetic material without providing compensation.

Lawyers for Thermo Fisher Scientific argue that the Lacks family’s claim of unjust enrichment was pursued almost a decade too late and should be dismissed.

According to Crump and Seeger, her family has not received any compensation for the use of her cells by biotech or pharmaceutical companies since they were harvested.

In the courtroom, Crump, a celebrated national civil rights attorney, called the company’s continued financial gain from the so-called HeLa cells “chattel profit … as if Ms. Lacks could be dissociated from her cells.”

“What if Henrietta Lacks had been given the dignity and respect like any other human being, and not considered a second-class citizen?” Crump asked at a news conference after the hearing. “What if she had been treated like a white woman, and they actually got her consent and then her family … would have permission to say you can’t use this intellectual property — her genetic makeup — without getting permission, and then having to compensate us for it?”

Lacks, a Black woman from Baltimore and a mother of five, died of cervical cancer in 1951 at the age of 31.

I will be sitting down with Ron Lacks on Friday, Sept. 9 at 6 p.m. on my radio show on Radio One’s Spirit 1340 AM.

Lyndia Grant is a speaker/writer living in the D.C. area. Her radio show, “Think on These Things,” airs Fridays at 6 p.m. on 1340 AM (WYCB), a Radio One station. To reach Grant, visit her website, www.lyndiagrant.com, email lyndiagrantshowdc@gmail.com or call 240-602-6295. Follow her on Twitter @LyndiaGrant and on Facebook.

Lyndia Grant

A seasoned radio talk show host, national newspaper columnist, and major special events manager, Lyndia is a change agent. Those who experience hearing messages by this powerhouse speaker are changed forever!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.