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Historical Perspectives on Henrietta Lacks

Members of the Lacks family with The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks author, Rebecca Skloot.
The Lacks family has enthralled audiences across the country by talking about their mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, Henrietta Lacks, and her transcendentally important contributions to science. The international success of Rebecca Skloot’s New York Times bestseller, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, has left people keenly interested in the Lacks family and Henrietta’s legacy. In their appearances, the family shares with audiences what it meant to find out—decades after the fact—that Henrietta’s cells were being used in laboratories around the world, bought and sold by the billions. With their visits, members of the Lacks family put a personal face on such issues as the dark history of medical experimentation on African-Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over informed consent. Their talks raise complicated questions about whether we control the stuff we’re made of, and whether we should share in the profits.

Members of Miss Lacks' family, Victoria Baptiste and Shirley Lacks, will be joining us for this event.

Victoria Baptiste is Henrietta Lacks' great-granddaughter. She travels regularly to talk about the Lacks family story. Inspired by Henrietta’s life, she is a nephrology nurse at a dialysis center. As a patient’s advocate, Victoria prides herself on treating patients with respect and dignity and—most importantly—making sure they understand their care. She finds her career fulfilling because it gives her the opportunity to educate patients on how to perform dialysis at home.
Shirley Lacks is Henrietta Lacks' daughter-in-law and Deborah’s childhood best friend. Since retiring from the banking industry, Shirley has dedicated much of her time to traveling around the country, keeping Henrietta’s legacy alive as a promise to her sister-in-law, Deborah Lacks. Henrietta’s enormous contribution to science has afforded Shirley the opportunity to be a voice for patient rights. Shirley has two children and two grandchildren.