- Cullman, Alabama

September 17, 2012

Lacks to speak at WSCC Wednesday, Sept. 19

WSCC Media Relations

CULLMAN — Wallace State Community College in Hanceville will welcome David “Sonny” Lacks to the Betty Leeth Haynes Theatre on Wednesday, September 19, at 9:30 a.m. Lacks will discuss “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot, a work of non-fiction written about his mother and her important contribution to science.

The public is invited to attend the event and to join the college community in reading “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” a New York Times bestseller and this year’s Wallace State Common Read selection.

In his discussion, Sonny Lacks will share what it meant to find out—decades after the fact—that his mother’s cells were being used in laboratories around the world, bought and sold by the billions. His is a sincere first-person perspective on the collision between ethics, race and the commercialization of human tissue, and how the experience changed the Lacks family forever.

“We think Sonny Lacks’s presentation will help us to promote discussions about all the issues going on in this book –race, bioethics, what it means to do research in a way that is useful and important but one that also respects people’s rights,” said Sally Warren, English Instructor and chair of the campus Common Read committee.  “We are happy to be promoting those discussions and getting students interested in issues that affect us all.”

Henrietta Lacks was an impoverished tobacco farmer from Virginia who was diagnosed with cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1951. Her cells, taken without her knowledge while undergoing treatment, are the first immortal human cells ever grown in the laboratory. Though Henrietta Lacks died in 1951 at age 31, HeLa cells, as her cells are now known, have become one of the most important tools in modern medicine. They were vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and other treatments, and remain the most widely used cell line in the world today.

The book raises important issues about experimentation involving human subjects, the birth of bioethics, legal battles over “informed consent” and the rights of the person, and who should share in the profits of research.  It is also a fascinating look at the science of modern medicine.

“This year’s selection provides a great opportunity to get students from all the disciplines involved,” Warren said.  In fact, the Wallace State Nursing Department helped the committee choose the book, she said.

Wallace State’s Common Read began in 2009. Its purpose is to provide a common academic experience for all first-year students and to enhance the academic atmosphere of the entire institution by focusing on an annual initiative related to literature. The program’s main goal is for participants to have fun and enjoy a great book, but it also encourages reading among students, creates a sense of community on campus, promotes discussion, provides a shared intellectual experience and encourages cross-disciplinary dialogue.

Wallace State was a League for Innovation’s 2011 Innovation of the Year Award winner for its Common Read Initiative.  Previous Common Read books were “Zeitoun” by Dave Eggers, “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” by John Boyne, and Mitch Albom’s “Tuesdays with Morrie”.

Members of Wallace State’s Common Read Committee are Dr. Mary Barnes, Carrie Bentley, Clay Cobb, Leigh Ann Courington, Diana Majerik, Schenaye Mauldin, Gayle Ledbetter, Stacey Moore, Susan O'Rear, Lauren Cantrell-Salerno, Michael Salerno, and Courtney Walker and Sally Warren.

For more information about the Sonny Lacks event on September 19, call the Wallace State English Department at 256-352-8219.