On Saturday, the events included a panel discussion on
cancer prevention and detection which featured Rochelle Hall
Rollins, PhD, of Mercy Health; Dr. Marceda Wilson-Coleman,
MD; Bessie Mack; Bertha Richardson; Toledo City Councilman
Larry Sykes and Dr. Tanya Baldwin, MD of Mercy Health.
After lunch on Saturday, members of the Lacks family were
invited to speak.
During the sorority’s last national convention in 2017, a
resolution was presented. “We presented a resolution and
continue to advocate for legislation. We don’t want what
happened to Mrs. Lacks to happen to anyone else,” said
Toledo Alumnae President Angela Siner.
“It’s an honor to have the Lacks family here this weekend.
The family will discuss Henrietta’s life and contributions
to the medical field,” explained Siner.
Jeri Lacks Whye, Henrietta
Lacks’ granddaughter, and Veronica Robinson, great
granddaughter, along with interviewer Doni Miller, discussed
Lacks’ life, how the family uncovered the fact of her
donation to science and the status of the family’s relations
with Johns Hopkins University currently and over the
Lacks had cervical cancer
when she went to Johns Hopkins seeking medical assistance.
Unfortunately she did not live for more than a few months
after being diagnosed but her cells lived on forever and
were of use in such medical advances as the vaccine for
polio, , in vitro fertilization, radiation treatments,
medications to control HIV and HPV infections.
Lacks died at such an
early age that, beyond her children, following generations
did not have first hand knowledge of her. She died at such
an early age – 31 – that even her own five children could
barely remember their mother as the years passed. What
subsequent generations learned of their now-famous ancestor,
they learned from the book, The Immortal Life of
Henrietta Lacks, by science author Rebecca Skloot that
was published in 2010 and later turned into an HBO film
starring Oprah Winfrey as Lacks’ daughter Deborah.
So much about Lacks’ death
was shrouded in mystery said Whye and Robinson because even
though Johns Hopkins, a research hospital, made it a point
to treat people of color and those of low-income, the
African-American community in Baltimore never felt
comfortable with the institution. Rumors abounded of tales
of people disappearing and other nefarious occurrences.
After Lacks died in 1951,
her cells, named HeLa cells, were harvested and the family,
said Whye, was not told about the extraordinary discovery.
Some 25 years later, they uncovered the truth. “My aunt was
at dinner at a friend’s home,” said Whye, “and another guest
heard the name ‘Lacks’ and he talked of research being done
at Johns Hopkins with that name.”
went home and reported the exchange to her husband, Lacks’
son, who went to the university and confronted authorities.
The secret was out.
Unfortunately, the secret
being known – around 1976 – did nothing to benefit Lacks’
descendants. The family, many of whose members are plagued
with high blood pressure and diabetes, could not even obtain
health insurance. Even today, while the late Henrietta Lacks
has been celebrated and memorialized in many places in the
United States and around the world, even by Johns Hopkins
University, a simple apology has not been forthcoming from
the research hospital. “No, if they say ‘I’m sorry’ it opens
up grounds for a lawsuit,” said Robinson. “They want to
appease the family but they don’t want to compensate the
In addition to the cancer awareness and advocacy focused
activities, the weekend included several social events for
The local chapter executive officers and state meeting
committee chairs are: Angela Siner, president; Linda Ewing,
first vice president; Rochelle Hall-Rollins, PhD, second
vice president; Jazmeika Spinks, recording secretary; Tene
Jackson, corresponding secretary; Gina Thompson, financial
secretary; Stacey Jackson-Jones, assistant financial
secretary; Tonia Pace, treasurer; Janaver Kyser, assistant
treasurer; and Ardenia Jones Terry and Linnie Willis,
Statewide Founders Day co-chairmen.