Wednesday, 08 August 2012 12:38

Annual event celebrates Lacks, others

by Nicole Rodman

    More than 50 people gathered at Union Baptist Church on Main Street last Saturday for the 15th Annual Turner Station Heritage and Praise Day Celebration.
    Held each year on the first Saturday in August, the event celebrates the Turner Station community and the people, past and present, who have built it.
    As always, former Turner Station resident Henrietta Lacks was the main focus of the afternoon’s reflection.   
    A resident of Turner Station until her death from cancer in 1951,  Lacks became part of medical history after her death when her unusually prolific cells were harvested and used to develop numerous medical treatments.
    Using Lacks’ cells, over the last six decades scientists have found cures and treatments for a number of diseases, including polio, cancer and AIDS.  
    Though Lacks has been a part of medical history for more than 60 years, it was not until decades later that the Lacks family learned of Henrietta’s remarkable contribution to medical science.       
    In an effort to recognize Lacks, and other notable Turner Station residents, Speed and others began celebrating Turner Station Heritage and Praise Day each summer.
    Shortly after noon last Saturday, the celebration began as mistresses of ceremony, Delmus Simmons and Courtney Speed, called the audience to order.
    After a short prayer, scouts from Turner Station Boy Scout Troop 270 presented the flag and led the Pledge of Allegiance.
    Once the Pledge was complete, a reading from the Bible was followed by an opening prayer offered by Minister Earl Simmons Jr.
    Following the opening prayer, Courtney Speed took a few minutes to speak about Henrietta Lacks and the community’s efforts to commemorate her life.
    Once Speed concluded her remarks, Carla Simmons offered a reflection on the Turner Station community.
    While noting that she did not originate from Turner Station, Simmons explained her admiration for the community’s “passion and dedication” to their heritage.
    Following Simmons’ remarks, resident Mary Coleman offered an oral history of Dr. Joseph H. Thomas, an early Turner Station doctor and community activist.
    One of the communities most prominent and prosperous citizens in the early half of the 20th century, Thomas built post offices, churches and movie theaters in Turner Station.
    In fact, as Coleman pointed out, Thomas’ Anthony Theater movie house later became the site of the Union Baptist Church, site of the day’s festivities.
    Also speaking at the ceremony was Dr. Adele S. Newton-Horst, a representative from Morgan State University. Newton-Horst discussed her involvement in a university-backed Henrietta Lacks project and presented free Morgan State tote bags to Boy Scout Troop 270.
    Also on hand was Michael Walsh, a professor at the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) Dundalk campus.
    Walsh is the driving force behind CCBC’s Henrietta Lacks Scholarship.
    Offered to area students studying science or math at CCBC, the one-time scholarship will become a permanent yearly endowment once the scholarship fund has reached $10,000.
    According to Walsh, who spoke of the scholarship at last Saturday’s event, the goal is within reach.
    The scholarship’s last fundraiser, Kevin Clash’s visit to CCBC Dundalk last March, raised approximately $8,500.
    “The college has committed high-position people to raise money for the endowment,” Walsh explained, adding, “We started small but we’re going to get really big.”
    As the ceremony began to wind down, there was only one speaker left before closing words were offered.
    Theodore Mack, chairman of the Maryland Commission on African-American History and Culture, was on hand to offer remarks on behalf of Gov. Martin O’Malley.
    Presenting a large framed certificate to Speed and the Lacks family, Mack declared (on behalf of the governor) Aug. 4, 2012, as Henrietta Lacks Day in Maryland.
     In reading the proclamation, Mack noted Lacks’ contributions to science in death, as well as her selfless personality in life.
    Following Mack’s remarks, Union Baptist Church’s pastor, the Rev. Eric Johnson, offered up a prayer to close out the ceremony.
    At the conclusion of the service, attendees were invited to adjourn to former VFW Post 4438, located on New Pittsburgh Ave, for a day of food, fun and live music.
    Though another Heritage and Praise Day has come and gone, the good works of Lack and Dr. Thomas live on in those who continue to celebrate their legacies.