David “Sonny” Lacks Visits Montclair State

Photo: Mike Peters

David "Sonny" Lacks

Addressing a standing-room-only audience of Montclair State University students, faculty, staff, alumni and members of the surrounding communities, David “Sonny” Lacks, spoke about his mother, her singular contribution to science and about what her story meant to his family. The son of Henrietta Lacks, the central figure in the book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, David Lacks was joined by his son, David Jr., at the special speaking engagement and book signing held in the University Hall Conference Center on September 27.

The New York Times bestseller, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, is the selection for Montclair Book 2012, a common reading experience for first-year students. It tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor, African-American tobacco farmer whose cells, taken without her knowledge in 1951, were to become the first immortal human cells ever grown in a laboratory. Although she died later that year, her cells continued to be grown and played a crucial role in medical breakthroughs in vaccinations, cloning, in vitro fertilization, and gene mapping.

David Lacks and his siblings did not learn that the cells existed until the 1970s and he talked about 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. He shared his enthralling first-person perspective on the ethical questions raised by this remarkable story, and how the experience changed the Lacks family forever.

Brigid Harrison, professor of political science and law moderated the discussion, and the guest speakers also answered questions from the audience. Lacks thanked Montclair State for inviting him to share his story and graciously stayed on to speak with audience members and sign copies of the book.

A part of Constitution Day 2012, the event was jointly sponsored by the Center for Writing Excellence, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the First-Year Writing Program, and Student Development and Campus Life.

View more photos from the event at Flickr.com.