According to the Associated Press, Johns Hopkins University and the family of Henrietta Lacks announced a new building on the school’s campus in East Baltimore will be named after the woman whose cells were taken without her consent and widely used in revolutionary cell research.
News outlets report the building will support programs promoting research and community engagement. Lacks died of cervical cancer in 1951 at the university where researchers soon discovered her cells reproduced indefinitely in test tubes.
For decades, it was not widely known that a black woman who was a patient at Hopkins was the unwitting source of the famous HeLa cells. It was only once Rebecca Skloot’s book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, was published in 2010 that Lacks’ story gained national attention. Oprah Winfrey subsequently produced and starred in a 2016 HBO biopic of Lacks’ life.
The announcement was part of the 9th Annual Henrietta Lacks Memorial Lecture, NBC 4 reports. Lacks’ granddaughter, Jeri Lacks, says the honor befits her grandmother’s role in advancing modern medicine.
Last year, the city of Baltimore designated October 4 as Henrietta Lacks Day to recognize the contributions of the woman behind the HeLa cells.
Aaron Maybin was an All-America linebacker at Penn State University and was drafted 11th overall by the Buffalo Bills in 2009. He played four seasons in the NFL for the Bills and New York Jets before retiring in 2014. He has since turned full-time to his art, chronicling his hometown’s challenges with poverty and crime through painting, photography and poetry, and he works as a teacher in Baltimore schools. Last winter, he became the outspoken face of outrage after many of Baltimore schools went without heat during extreme cold. He was written a book, Art Activism, which chronicles Maybin’s journey.
Here, as told to ESPN’s Kevin Van Valkenburg, Maybin tells about his path from a life of football to working on behalf of kids from his neighborhood, how he connects with students and why he doesn’t see himself as a hero.
When I was younger, football gave me an identity.
Growing up in communities like the one I grew up in, West Baltimore, you’re always fighting for your identity. From the time you’re born until you’re grown, you’re literally inundated with stories of how your safety is always in jeopardy and how everybody – from your parents to people in the community to folks at your church – is just so hell-bent and focused on keeping you safe.
So many of us in those neighborhoods are so angry, so furious, at everything. At the world. I lost my mother at 6 years old. I was mad at God. I was mad at my family. I was mad at everything. In those kinds of environments, especially for young kids of color, people look to attach themselves to something greater.
I had been an artist my whole life, but when I was younger, it was not cool for you to just be like, “Yeah I’m an artist. I make things.” Football was the first thing I did and I excelled at to the level where I gained acceptance and admiration from everybody that saw me do my thing. It was like an outlet.
Football was the first space that I was afforded where you’re not penalized for your anger. You’re celebrated for it. You knock somebody out of a game and people give you praise. They know you as this guy not to be messed with, to be respected and celebrated.
It wasn’t until I got older that I didn’t want my identity to be tied to a game anymore.
I can look at football now with a certain amount of nostalgia and not be too heavily tied to it, because at the end of the day, I stopped being tied to the game.
It was probably around college at Penn State that I realized there’s something wrong with how we were being conditioned as athletes. Even as great a coach as Joe Paterno was, he had some deep-seated issues that were rooted in race and patriarchy and bigotry that reared their heads in how we were handled as players and as men.
The idea that we couldn’t have facial hair, for example. If it was past like a five o’clock shadow, then you would get penalized. If you had locks or an Afro or something like that, he would be like, “You’ve got to do something with that.” Guys would get it braided or twisted, but as soon as he would see it, he would be like, “Cut it.” If you look at people like myself, LaVar Arrington, Jared Odrick, NaVorro Bowman, basically every black player who went to Penn State, you see them leave and go through an almost Rastafarian physical transformation where we all grow our beards out. We all either get our hair in locks or twists or cornrows.
College years are very pivotal years, right? Throughout the same time that you’re just starting to learn about your blackness or where you fit in the larger society, you’re starting to learn about historical context of your roots. You have somebody who you look at and revere as your leader who tells you that there’s something wrong with you. That there’s something unacceptable about the natural things that make you who you are, that there’s something wrong with your person.
I didn’t realize how problematic it was back then. I was young. I didn’t really understand how deep those things went and where they were coming from. I just knew that those were the guidelines that I had to abide by. We’ve got to ask ourselves why a lot more.
DMG Foods, which is named after the organization’s promise of “doing the most good,” opened in northeast Baltimore with the goal of providing local residents with nutritious, low-cost food as well as nutrition guidance, meal planning and job training. “If this works, Baltimore wants us to open two or three more stores,” Maj. Gene A. Hogg, the Salvation Army’s Central Maryland area commander, told HuffPost on Monday.
The store, which has an on-site butcher and deli, as well as prepared meals and salads by Maryland’s Food Bank, is in a former Salvation Army warehouse that was renovated to offer what Hogg described as “that upper-end grocery store experience” at affordable prices. Inside, it’s bright and spacious, he said, and it features food samplings, recipe ideas, cooking demonstrations and visits by guest chefs and city health department nutritionists.
Because it’s across the street from an elementary school, it also allows parents to pick up or drop off their children and shop for their family’s meals in the same trip, Hogg said. Previously, he said, people would have to travel more than a quarter of a mile to find a grocery store or market, which fits within the city’s definition of a food desert. The definition also includes more than 30% of the surrounding households having no vehicle access and the medium household income at or below 185% of the federal poverty level. “The idea is to strengthen the family table,” he said. “We want to do more than just sell groceries.”
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh attended the store’s opening ceremony to cut the ribbon. She encouraged the Salvation Army’s efforts. “This serves as a beacon for the rest of this community. If we can do this here, we can do this in other parts of the city,” she said, according to local station WJZ.
In addition to providing fresh food, the store will also offer a workforce development program that will help train prospective employees. It will also have special offers and discounts for those who are part of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps. Any money that is made from the operation will be donated to Catherine’s Cottage, a local facility run by the Salvation Army that offers support to human trafficking survivors, Hogg said. “What we’re trying to do is create an environment where the community feels welcome and where they’re engaging for the betterment of their community,” Hogg said.
The Baltimore store is considered the Salvation Army’s test site. It hopes to open more stores around the country if this one succeeds and there is eagerness among outside communities to get involved. Thus far, Hogg said, he’s received calls from around the world inquiring about their efforts.
“We think that we’re going to be successful, but you can’t make any judgment calls after four days of work.”
Next week, Baltimore is expected to open the Office of African American Male Engagement to reduce the Black male incarceration rate, at a time when the city’s homicide rate is sky high–setting a record per capita rate in 2017. This program will hopefully save lives and end the cycle of incarceration.
“We want to save lives. The reason the office is important is because too many Black men are either the perpetrators of crime or victims of it. It is about saving lives,” said Andrey Bundley, who’s leaving his position as safety director for Baltimore City Public Schools to lead the new office, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Mayor Catherine Pugh opens the new office on Feb. 12. Modeled on a similar program in Philadelphia, the Baltimore initiative focuses on providing mentoring and a range of services for boys and men. It will connect to existing mentoring programs and includes a focus on men returning home from prison.
This effort is much needed. Baltimore was one of the most dangerous cities in America in 2017, setting a new per-capita homicide record of 343 killings. The police arrested tens of thousands of African-American males last year. And in many cases, once these young men were caught in the criminal justice system, many of them become repeat offenders. It was estimated in 2015 that 73 percent of former inmates in Baltimore City re-offend within three years.
The program seeks to create a support network, Bundley said. “We need that kind of space for individuals who don’t have a father or who have come out of prison or who are going through the process of getting a job,” he added, noting that scores of young Black men in the city lack families that can help them readjust and stay out of trouble after incarceration.
Former NFL linebacker-turned-educator Aaron Maybin has raised money and national awareness about Baltimore students in desperate need of heat and warm gear.
Last week, Maybin, who currently works as a teacher at Baltimore’s Matthew A. Henson Elementary School, shared on Twitter a video of young students complaining about the frigid conditions inside of their classroom. “I’m super, super cold,” said one boy. “Yesterday, I had frostbite,” revealed another little boy who appeared to be wearing a winter coat. “This is unacceptable,” wrote Maybin as the caption of the tweet, which went viral.
In another tweet, the former player and Baltimore native expressed outrage about the way taxpayer dollars are allocated and prioritized.
According to BaltimoreBrew.com, the temperature inside of his classroom hovered around 40 degrees. “How would your kids concentrate if you sent them to school in a refrigerator for eight hours? With failing lighting. Two classes in one room?” Maybin told the site. “We tried our best as educators. They tried their best as scholars. But they are dealing with a lot already. And now they are supposed to learn in the dark and in the cold.” He added that about half of the school has been without electricity since the beginning of the month. “I’m told it was due to nobody being there during the holidays to make sure the heat stayed on and pipes didn’t freeze.”
In addition to voicing concern about the horrid conditions, the 29-year-old artist and activist also encouraged his Twitter followers to donate to a GoFundMe campaign, titled We Need Heat In Our Public Schools, that aimed to raise $20,000 to purchase 600 space heaters and winter clothes for students.
“Baltimore City Public Schools are currently operating with an inadequate heating system,” reads the GoFundMe page. “Students are still required to attend classes that are freezing and expected to wear their coats to assist in keeping them warm. How can you teach a child in these conditions?”
On Thursday, Maybin tweeted that the page raised over $8,000 after he shared a link on Twitter. That same day, he shared a photo of himself picking up clothing and other donations for the children. By Monday afternoon, the page had raised more than $76,000.
In response to the crisis, the Baltimore City Public Schools system released a statement on Sunday assuring that the heating issues were addressed late last week when city schools were closed. The statement also promised that “every student will be in a safe, warm learning space, or the school won’t be open.”
The National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. has commissioned Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald to paint Barack and Michelle Obama’s portraits, respectively, the Wall Street Journal reports. Both portraits will be unveiled next year when they are added to the museum’s collection.
Wiley is known for Old Masters–style portraits of contemporary black sitters. He has occasionally discussed the positive impact Barack Obama’s presidency had on artists creating images of non-white sitters. “The reality of Barack Obama being the president of the United States—quite possibly the most powerful nation in the world—means that the image of power is completely new for an entire generation of not only black American kids, but every population group in this nation,” he told BBC News in 2012.
The Baltimore-based Amy Sherald, who paints minimalist pictures of black Americans is less well-known than Wiley. She has had two shows with Monique Meloche Gallery, and next year will have a solo exhibition at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis.
Statues dedicated to Confederate heroes were swiftly removed across Baltimore in the small hours of Wednesday morning, just days after violence broke out over the removal of a similar monument in neighboring Virginia.
Beginning soon after midnight on Wednesday, a crew, which included a large crane and a contingent of police officers, began making rounds of the city’s parks and public squares, tearing the monuments from their pedestals and carting them out of town.Small crowds gathered at each of the monuments and the mood was “celebratory,” said Baynard Woods, the editor at large of The Baltimore City Paper, who documented the removals on Twitter. “The police are being cheerful and encouraging people to take photos and selfies,” Mr. Woods said in an interview.
The statues were taken down by order of Mayor Catherine Pugh, after the City Council voted on Monday for their removal. The city had been studying the issue since 2015, when a mass shooting by a white supremacist at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., prompted a renewed debate across the South over removing Confederate monuments and battle flags from public spaces.
Baltimore is now home to a national chess champion. 7th grader Cahree Myrick came out on top last week against hundreds of other students. He is the best in the country after taking home a mega-trophy from the U.S. Chess Federation’s National Tournament.
Chess is more than just a hobby for Roland Park Middle School’s Myrick, who has worked very hard for this title. “I expected to do well, but I didn’t expect to win the whole thing,” Myrick said. The Roland Park team practices four days a week after school. Myrick’s coach even gives them homework to stay sharp. “They work hard during the school year and everybody wants to be on the team and wants to go, so we try to take as many as we can,” said teacher Annett Zimmer.
Four other students from Roland Park went to nationals. As a team, they placed 13th out of more than 40 teams. Roland Park Middle School has won the national title twice as a team. Cahree, whose been playing since 1st grade, says the strategy is his favorite part of the game.“I think [my favorite part it] practice and studying the board,” Myrick said. “Because in order to be successful, you need to know tactics, you need to know all of the rules.”
Following the literary and film success of “Hidden Figures,” author Margot Lee Shetterly will turn her attention to two little-known but prominent Black families in Baltimore. Viking Books announced today (April 10) that it has acquired the rights to Shetterly’s next two books.
The first will focus on the mid 20th-century achievements of the Murphys, a publishing family, and the entrepreneurial Adams family. As described by PBS, formerly enslaved patriarch John Henry Murphy founded the The Afro-American newspaper and turned it, with his children, into one of the country’s most widely-read Black titles.
The paper tackled Jim Crow, the lack of Black representation in Baltimore government and other racial justice issues throughout its existence. The Murphys used this influence to successfully advocate local change, including desegregating the University of Maryland‘s law school.
A 2011 Baltimore Sun obituary for Adams family leader William “Little Willie” Adams notes that he and his schoolteacher-turned-politician wife Victorine spun wealth generated in the Great Depression-era underground economy into systematic venture capital and philanthropy. Their investments and donations sustained Black business development, employment and political clout for decades in Baltimore.
According to a Viking press statement about the not-yet titled book, “Shetterly will bring the history of Baltimore to life through the success stories of the Adamses and the Murphys, also showing the contrasting challenges faced by those left behind by redlining, lack of economic opportunity, and urban decay.”
The second book lacks a fixed topic but will also uncover the history of hidden Black figures.
Recently the Landmarks Committee of the National Park Service unanimously voted to recommend that the home at 906 Carroll Street become a National Historic Landmark. The final decision on the matter rests with the Secretary of the Interior and the decision can be made before the change in presidential administrations. The Pauli Murray Project has fully restored the home and it is expected that it will be made into a museum and social justice center.
A native of Baltimore, Pauli Murray was orphaned at age 13. She went to Durham, North Carolina to live with an aunt. After graduating from high school at the age of 16, she enrolled in Hunter College in New York City. She was forced to drop out of school at the onset of the Great Depression. In 1938, she mounted an unsuccessful legal effort to gain admission to the all-white University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 1940, 15 years earlier than Rosa Parks, Murray was arrested for refusing to sit in the back of a bus in Virginia.
Murray enrolled at the Howard University in 1941 and earned her degree in 1944. She later graduated from the Boalt Hall Law School at the University of California at Berkeley. She became a leader of the civil rights movement and was critical of its leadership for not including more women in their ranks. In 1977, Murray, at the age of 66, was ordained a priest of the Episcopal Church. She died in Pittsburgh in 1985 after suffering from cancer.