The Henrietta Lacks Foundation awards first assistance grants to HeLa descendants

Yesterday, author Rebecca Skloot made the following announcement at her website:

Today, the Henrietta Lacks Foundation awarded its first ever grants thanks to donations from Rebecca Skloot, and many readers. The first awards cover full tuition and books for five descendants of Henrietta Lacks starting fall semester 2010, as well as an emergency grant for one of Henrietta Lacks’s sons. More information about the inaugural Henrietta Lacks Foundation grants coming soon. For more information on the foundation, or to make a donation, click here.

As some readers know, I have been a big fan of Skloot’s book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and I have been the beneficiary of the cervical carcinoma cell line established in 1951 from the Ms. Lacks’s tumor.

When Rebecca announced last year that she was to establish a foundation to funnel profits and donations to assist the Lacks family, one of her primary goals when embarking on this project more than ten years ago, she also asked me to serve on the board of the Foundation.

I’ll have more to say about this process when a formal press release is made. But for the time being, I consider myself incredibly fortunate to do my part to honor the memory of Henrietta Lacks and assist her descendants.

“Rosie the Riveter” was a Black woman

I’m off for another all-day work event that will leave me without internet, not even on the iPhone, so I leave you with some cultural anthropology to muse over as you while away your Friday.

I read the Denver Post all the time online but I somehow missed last week’s photo gallery of rare color pictures taken in the US during the Depression and World War II:

These images, by photographers of the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information, are some of the only color photographs taken of the effects of the Depression on America’s rural and small town populations. The photographs are the property of the Library of Congress and were included in a 2006 exhibit Bound for Glory: America in Color.

The color plates are absolutely breathtaking. The images bring a time alive that many of us only heard of through our grandparents or saw in detached black-and-white photographs. I was not fully prepared for how the color made me think differently about those times and have more empathy for those who lived through those hard times.

Two photographs are particularly noteworthy to me: #54 and #66.

The first shows a group of women railroad workers having lunch in 1943, a time when so many men were off to war that workforce necessity overruled the gender roles that permeated the post-war 1950s and beyond.

The second photo shows an African-American woman installing rivets into an airplane in a scene reminiscent of the motivational “We Can Do It!” war campaign of Rosie the Riveter. Rosie the Riveter was based on a Norman Rockwell painting I had the good fortune of seeing displayed one summer in Aspen, Colorado. Not well-appreciated about the original painting (which appeared on the May 29, 1943 cover of The Saturday Evening Post) is that the stout woman is shown eating her sandwich on a stool with her riveter while resting her foot on a copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

The Wikipedia entry on this campaign is fascinating and, interestingly, features photo #66 as the first in the entry.

I’m not an anthropologist but I find these images striking because they represent a time when societal needs outweighed our feeble penchant for racial and gender discrimination.

Many thanks to Maggie Koerth-Baker at Boing Boing for making us aware of this photo gallery.

What is this Juneteenth of which you speak?

Juneteenth image.jpgA couple of reader questions came in this week following our interview with the inspiring African-American leader and mentor, Jason Dorsette.
I had mentioned therein about first meeting Mr. Dorsette two years ago this week at a local Juneteenth celebration. A few readers, even those in the southern United States had not heard of this commemoration. So, since today is the ascribed date of Juneteenth and the US Father’s Day weekend is typically the time that municipal celebrations are held, I thought I’d leave you with a brief description and some good links.
I can’t do any better than TIME’s Gilbert Cruz as he began his 2008 article, A Brief History of Juneteenth:

There is a common misconception among Americans that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves with a stroke of his pen. Yet the Emancipation Proclamation, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 1863, did no such thing — or, at least, it didn’t do a very good job of it. Two and a half years later, on June 19, 1865, Union soldiers sailed into Galveston, Texas, announced the end of the Civil War, and read aloud a general order freeing the quarter-million slaves residing in the state. It’s likely that none of them had any idea that they had actually been freed more than two years before. It was truly a day of mass emancipation. It has become known as Juneteenth.

From the Texas State Library and Archives Commission:

Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, is the name given to emancipation day by African-Americans in Texas. On that day in 1865 Union Major-General Gordon Granger read General Orders, No.3 to the people of Galveston. It stated,
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

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HBCU medical schools at Morehouse, Meharry, and Howard lead “social mission” metric – Annals of Internal Medicine

ResearchBlogging.orgReuters Health Executive Editor and proprietor of the excellent Embargo Watch blog, Ivan Oransky, was kind to alert me to this topical paper that appeared in Monday’s issue of Annals of Internal Medicine entitled, The Social Mission of Medical Education: Ranking the Schools.
To the credit of the Annals, the full text of the primary article is currently free. An accompanying editorial is behind the subscription wall.
The study was conducted led by Fitzhugh Mullan with Candice Chen, MD, Gretchen Kolsky, and Michael Spagnola from the Department of Health Policy at the George Washington University and Stephen Petterson, PhD from The Robert Graham Center was supported with funding from the Josiah Macy Foundation.
The authors developed a metric called “social mission” to rate US medical schools on their responsiveness to three major issues they cite as facing medical schools and policymakers: “an insufficient number of primary care physicians, geographic maldistribution of physicians, and the lack of a representative number of racial and ethnic minorities in medical schools and in practice.”

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Jason Dorsette: Maximizing collegiate success for African-American men

pic2.jpgIn the 18 years from my first faculty appointment, one of the most satisfying parts of the journey has been watching students come through my life who you can tell – you just “know” – are going to make a huge difference in the world. (I previously wrote of one of these here, Arizona clinical pharmacist, Sandra Leal, PharmD.)

Well, two years ago, I was at the kickoff of a Juneteenth celebration at my new institution and was immediately drawn to this striking young man who, after speaking with him for a spell, convinced me that he was going to be one of these kinds of students.

It’s not just that he stands out from a crowd because he’s taller than me. Anyone who has met Jason Dorsette will tell you that the man just simply exudes warmth and elegance. And not just because he is literally tall, dark, and handsome. He makes you feel welcomed, listened to, and valued. You see him making an impact in everything he touches, from leading the NCCU Graduate Student Association to building through Habitat for Humanity to leading a new university initiative to cultivate young African-American men for collegiate success.

I view Mr. Dorsette as a role model. And I’m just a professor from a completely different discipline.

In our continuing series reviewing issues raised at the Centennial HBCU Symposium in Research Triangle Park, NC on June 3-4, 2010, I want you to know more about Jason Dorsette. I have no doubt that you will hear much more about him in the years to come.

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HBCU Symposium discussion of math skills

In continuing our discussion of the Centennial HBCU Symposium held June 3-4 in Research Triangle Park, NC, I wanted to briefly follow up a theme that emerged several times across the diverse talks.

Outside of a high dropout rate, a major challenge to African-American students succeeding in universities is poor preparation in math skills from high schools. Of course, this is not just a problem of this demographic but, sadly, is a major challenge we see everywhere in the US and has been especially evident in our ScienceBlogs annual support of the DonorsChoose project.

This point seems obvious but math skills are far more important than just for success in the STEMM disciplines.

In the June 9th edition of The New York Times, Bob Tedeschi discusses a study (PDF) with senior author Columbia University business professor, Stephan Meier, on the role that poor math skills may be playing in the current mortgage foreclosure epidemic.

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Brian Kennedy on the continued relevance of HBCUs

As launched with yesterday’s post, we’ll be spending this week presenting my impressions of a symposium held on June 3-4, 2010, entitled, “Setting the Agenda for Historically Black Colleges and Universities.” Sponsored by North Carolina Central University, one of five HBCUs in the University of North Carolina system, this gathering of national education leaders culminated a year long celebration of the centennial of the 1910 founding of the institution by businessman, teacher, and pharmacist, Dr. James E. Shepard.
A native of Raleigh, Shepard earned a Ph.G. in pharmacy (the original pharmacy degree) in 1894 from the Leonard Medical School at Shaw University. After establishing the first pharmacy in Durham that served African-American clientele, Shepard was central to the founding of two institutions that established the Bull City as a beacon of Black business activity in the South: the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company (1898) and Mechanics & Farmers Bank (1907).
HBCUs have tended to focus on their rich history of struggle and accomplishment but the symposium focused on moving forward as an institution in today’s highly-competitive higher education landscape and global economy. Scholars far more qualified than I have held forth on the continued relevance of the HBCU.
But as a white professor from the North at a HBCU, what I find most refreshing is learning from students about how the HBCU experience is relevant to them – today. I want to share one example with you in this post.
Brian Kennedy is a native of the Charlottesville, Virginia area and is a rising junior in political science at NCCU. He was recently elected vice-president of the NCCU Student Government Association. Brian qualifications could have easily gotten him into UVa, or any university for that matter, but he chose only to apply to Howard University and NCCU. (This reminds me of a Temple University commercial on Philadelphia television stations in the early 1980s featuring Bill Cosby speaking about specific students and their qualification with his tagline, “She could’ve gone anywhere. She chose Temple.”)
On day one of the HBCU Symposium, Brian gave the lunch address in a session entitled, Student Matters: Manifestations of the HBCU Experience. Brian was swamped with attention following the session but he took time later in the day to share with Terra Sigillata readers the highlights of his talk. Toward the end we also shared a few laughs as to whether students want blogging professors in their social media affairs.


Many thanks to Mr. Kennedy for talking with us about his talk and his own influences and motivations for choosing to attend a HBCU.

NCCU Centennial HBCU Symposium – Setting the Agenda for Historically Black Colleges and Universities

HBCU Symposium.jpg
On June 3rd and 4th, I had the pleasure of attending a fabulous program on the modern role and future sustainability of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the United States. The HBCU Symposium: Setting the Agenda for Historically Black Colleges and Universities was the culmination of the 100th anniversary of the founding of North Carolina Central University (NCCU).
NCCU is one of five HBCUs in the University of North Carolina system and among 11 such institutions of higher learning in the state (list and links here). I currently serve on the faculty of this institution.
For those unfamiliar, HBCUs were classified by President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Higher Education Act of 1965 as institutions established prior to 1964 with the intention of providing higher education to the Black community. There remain 105 such institutions today, primarily in established former slave states following the Civil War.
However, the original HBCUs were founded in the North prior to the Civil War by the generosity of Quaker, Episcopalian, and other abolitionist supporters of the day: what is now Cheyney University (1837) and Lincoln University (1854) in Pennsylvania and Wilberforce University (1856) in Ohio.
Our September 2008 post for National HBCU Week provides more introductory background on these institutions as well as a round-up of commentary around the blogosphere on the continued relevance of these institutions.
It is important to note that the special federal classifications of these institutions was not meant for any preferential treatment of Black students but rather simple parity with historically White institutions. But among public HBCUs, state higher education funding per student averages about 3/5ths that of historically White institutions, a fraction whose irony is not lost on me.

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Shout-out to Cruze, Lonnie, and Scholar 3000 at The REC Radio Show on G-Town Radio

The REC poster Abel Pharmboy on G-Town Radio 2010.06.09.jpegI just want to say thank you to Len Webb aka ‘Cruze’ and his posse for having me on their weekly, two-hour online radio show, The REC, this past Wednesday night at G-Town Radio in Philadelphia. It was nice to open my e-mailbox Wednesday morning with his note.

I’ve read your blog on the case of Henrietta Lacks and the episode of Law and Order. The episode inspired us to spend some time tonight June 9th on the program discussing the issue. I planned to reference your blog and your thoughts on the show but I was hoping you might be available to talk to via phone and share your thoughts live on air. Its always better to have the actual writer behind the words than my reinterpretation.
The REC Radio Show (http://therecradio.com) airs live every Wednesday evening 8-10p on G-Town Radio (http://www.gtownradio.com) and is podcast via iTunes.
I hope you will be able to join our conversation.

For the record: Anytime anyone wants to talk with me about topics on the blog with a larger audience, I’m game.

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What does it take to knock off K2 Spice readership?

Just the other day, I wrote about how DrugMonkey and I have experienced unprecedented and sustained blog traffic for posts we wrote in February on K2 Spice, one of a couple of marijuana-like “incense” products still sold legally in the United States.
Every morning, I dial up my SiteMeter blog statistics and take a look at what posts readers first land upon when coming to visit the humble world headquarters of Terra Sigillata.
Last week, 2,700 to 2,800 of the 4,000 most recent hits were landing on our February K2 Spice post. (You will also note below the sad state of my readership in that posts on Stiff Nights erectile dysfunction supplement and Horny Goat Weed products are the next most popular direct hits.)
Finally, one post has knocked it out of the top spot after nearly four months:
Monday’s post about the memorial unveiling of the gravestone for Henrietta Lacks this past weekend.
Henrietta Lacks knocks off K2 Spice.jpg
I have been completely overwhelmed by the interest in this story. This widespread attention would not be possible without the Facebook and blog referrals by author Rebecca Skloot, The New York Times Science page, and the enthusiastic Twitter referrals by other writers who I respect greatly such as David Dobbs, Sara Goforth, Mike Rosenwald, T. DeLene Beeland, Ted Winstead, scribbler50, Eric Ferreri, – as well as the dozens of you sci/med bloggers and folks from other walks of life who found this post worthy of recommending to your friends.
Please accept my apologies if you were not mentioned by name – I don’t have Bora Zivkovic’s flair for aggregating and linking to every referral but you have my gratitude for further popularizing the story of Henrietta Lacks and her family.
And for those of you so inclined, here are images of the memorial program that weren’t included in the last post:

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