University Park, IL,
13:49 PM

Grandson of Henrietta Lacks to speak at GovState health fair

Alfred Lacks-Carter, Jr.

Alfred Lacks-Carter, Jr., the grandson of Henrietta Lacks – whose cancer cells are the source of groundbreaking medical research – will speak at Governors State University (GovState) as part of a daylong event to raise awareness of cancer and prevention on Oct. 2.

The Second Annual EPIC Cancer Health Event is a free, daylong health fair that will allow one-on-one community engagement with health care professionals while also promoting awareness of cancer, advocating for screenings and honoring the legacy of Henrietta Lacks.

“This health fair represents a leading way to bring together students, faculty, staff, and community members to obtain cancer health education and awareness, prevention measures, clinical trial information, and fill an unmet public health need, including the provision of screening services that participants can greatly benefit from, ‘’ said Dr. Tonya Roberson, Director of Community Engagement, who is organizing the fair along with Tareylon Chairse, Director of Clinical Education, and Nursing Department Chair Dr. Nancy MacMullen.

The health fair will be held from 1 to 7 p.m. in GovState’s Hall of Governors, with Lacks-Carter, Jr. scheduled to speak at 5 p.m. 

Lacks-Carter, Jr. travels the world sharing his grandmother’s incredible story of unknowingly creating the HeLa cells, the first immortalized human cell line. According to the Johns Hopkins Medicine website, the HeLa cells have been used to study the human genome, to learn more about how viruses work, and played a crucial role in the development of the polio and COVID-19 vaccines.

The story is the subject of a 2010 book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” and a 2017 movie by the same name. In the movie, Oprah Winfrey played the role of Deborah Lacks, the daughter of Henrietta Lacks and the mother of Lacks-Carter, Jr. He served as a consultant on the movie.

At the health fair, Lacks-Carter, Jr. will speak about health care clinical trials, advocacy, literacy, as well as a business line created to honor his grandmother. Roberson said Lacks-Carter,  Jr. is the perfect person to bring the message to GovState. 

“Henrietta Lacks’ legacy must be secured with all due respect, honor, and dignity because we all are recipients of her contribution to medicine, research and science,'' said Roberson.

Though his grandmother had no knowledge that her cells were being studied, Lacks-Carter, Jr. said he is proud of her legacy and works to keep it alive to encourage others.

“My grandmother went through a lot at the Colored Ward at Johns Hopkins Hospital. She or any members of our family never knew they were studying her cells, but because they did, we have so many medical advances now. Women with cervical issues can safely have babies, we have HIV treatments … Clinical trials are good – especially for people of color –  as long as they are informed and fairly represented. Research saves lives and helps find cures.”