Henrietta Lacks’s Family Wins Groundbreaker: But What is the Real Deal Today with Black Women and Cervical Cancer?


We know that Black women have had historically worse outcomes in nearly all levels of health disparities in society.

Be it congestive heart failure, kidney disease, diabetes, sickle cell anemia, lupus, AIDS, what-have-you, and nearly every form of cancer you can name, Black people in general have worse outcomes than whites with the same diseases due to lack of access to healthcare and early and preventative medical treatment, but here’s the Mother of All Truth about something that is specific to women:

Henrietta Lacks, as most of  us have heard by now, was a poor tobacco farmer; but she was also a brave nearly nameless 31-year old Black woman whom the medical community only referred to for more than six decades as “HeLa.” After bouts with failed radiation treatment, she lost her battle to cervical cancer on October 4, 1951, leaving five children, three boys and two girls, motherless.

Without her knowledge or permission, or the permission of her bereaved family, doctors at Johns Hopkins removed some cells from her lifeless body in order to study them for future advancements in medical science. They swabbed some of her healthy cells and some of the diseased ones in order to do comparative studies about the cause or causes of cervical cancer and to, hopefully, use them to find a cure.

Instead, this is what they got as an “added bonus”: The polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and much more. Because of her death, millions of people have lived, hundreds of thousands of childless couples have been able to conceive, and many more have made millions in profits off the ‘stolen’ research stem cells that came from Lacks’s body.

Yesterday, news came through the media airwaves that the family of Henrietta Lacks (Joseph Lacks, David Lacks Jr., Elsie Lacks, Deborah Lacks, and Lawrence Lacks) recently received a general and specific “settlement” in which their biggest compensation was the right to have more control over what is done with the HeLa cells and how they are used. All of the details of the settlement have not been released to the public, but it’s a humongous win for them, and for all of us.

Black people in general, and specifically Black women, have been horrendously overlooked and diminished across all lines in society for our much-touted “failure” to have contributed in any significant manner to society at-large. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and as we are all beginning to see for ourselves … everything that is done in the dark will come to the Shining Light.

The Family of Henrietta Lacks
The Henrietta Lacks Foundation at http://henriettalacksfoundation.org/

Considering the way this sad story began, the ending has a bright future for the children and all the future of the family of Henrietta Lacks. Now for the bad news, because there always is some.

To this day, the disparities in healthcare outcomes for Black women remain nearly unchanged.

Even though medicine has gone through tremendous technological advances and strides, Black and Hispanic women still remain on the low end of access to proper medical care in the event that they are diagnosed with the same type of disease that killed Ms Lacks – cervical cancer.


Don’t take our word for it, read it for yourself.

We’ve gotten at least two or more important takeaway values from this immortal lesson and the life of Ms Henrietta Lacks: It is not only further proof that Black women are in fact, the daughters of Eve and the Immortal Mothers of All Humanity; it also tells us that we need to think twice before low-rating President Barack Obama’s initiatives to provide proper healthcare to ALL Americans, regardless of race, ethnicity, and ability to pay.

There is a bigger picture here than how anyone “feels” about Obamacare, and there is a bigger picture that says Black women need to band together and fight even harder for ACCESS TO PROPER HEALTHCARE for everyone.

In some way or another, we are ALL related to Henrietta Lacks; we’ve all benefited from her death in one way or another. Along with our parents and grandparents, and those who came before them, we’ve all taken the “hits” and paid the ultimate price for the progress America has made in ALL areas, even though they still refuse to give us credit for that which is our birthright inheritance as Black people in the world.

Healthcare is not a privilege, it is a RIGHT.

Go and do thou likewise.

Yes, you. You are more important to this world and its advancements and human progress than we have all been taught to believe. The “Story of All of Us” still represents Black people as ancient spear-chuckers (actual African royalty) and westernized slaves. It still leaves out the many advances in technology and progress in the world that were carefully mastered and engineered by Black and African people and keeps it all shrouded behind the mysterious “who knows how it happened” and the “white man as the all-powerful all-knowing” gods and masters of the Universe. Not.

Share your demand for the RIGHT OF WAY TO HEALTHCARE and PROPER ACCESS TO VIABLE MEDICAL TREATMENT, just like she shared with us, without even knowing it, her body to give us the eternal gift of advanced medical treatments and scientific discovery.


CDC: The HPV Vaccine (Cervarix and Gardasil)

Donate to The Henrietta Lacks Foundation

Read the Book “Returning the Blessings of an Immortal Life

UltraViolet: Congress and The Attack on Women’s Healthcare and Reproductive Rights

Retirees for SinglePayer Healthcare

“The Green Mile”


PUBLIC NOTE: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of the Urban Intellectuals, affiliates or partners.


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