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Kalamazoo has link to African-American woman who contributed to decades of medical break-throughs

"microscope" by liverpoolhls is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

Kalamazoo has a link to an African-American woman who contributed to seven decades of medical break-throughs in cancer, AIDs, polio, even the corona virus vaccine. 

Jermaine Jackson is a nephew of the late Henrietta Lacks. He recently completed a traveling exhibit about his aunt, who died in 1951 of cervical cancer at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Cells taken from a biopsy before her death are used in research to this day. But there's a huge message that Jackson wants the public to know:

“You know… her cells were taken without her permission or consent,” said Jackson.

Jackson says he hopes his exhibit will also show that Lacks, who was a mother of five, is more than her cells. The exhibit has family photos and seven pieces art about her. Some of that art was donated from an earlier exhibit that Jackson produced a few years ago for the Kalamazoo Public Library, where he works.

Henrietta Lacks was the sister-in-law of his grandmother, Bessie Lacks, who still lives in Kalamazoo; the women were married to brothers. Jackson grew up hearing his grandmother’s stories about how her late sister-in-law’s cells had done amazing things and they were still alive.

“There certainly was some things that I didn’t understand," says Jackson. "It sounded like something out of a sci-fi movie.”

He says it wasn’t until the best-selling book “the Immortal Life Henrietta Lacks” was released in 2010 that it became real to him.

Jackson had hoped to start showing his exhibit in person last March, but then the pandemic happened. So, for now, he's made a 15-minute video tour of the exhibit that he showed during a recent online presentation at the Western Michigan University School of Medicine.

You can learn more about the exhibit at the Facebook page for the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Traveling Museum.