Roanoke group aiming to raise $140,000 for a statue in honor Henrietta Lacks

Her cells led to the discovery of a polio vaccine

One Roanoke organization is making sure the name "Henrietta Lacks" is remembered by pushing for a statue of her in the city.

Roanoke, Va. – Henrietta Lacks is known for leading to medical breakthroughs about vaccinations after her cells were used by scientists when she died from cervical cancer at 31 years old.

Despite being a Roanoke native, there’s no statue of her in the Star City.

If one group sees its dream realized, the ‘mother of modern medicine’ would end up having one in the heart of Roanoke.

Roanoke Vice Mayor Trish White-Boyd is spearheading a project to raise $140,000 to make a life-size bronze statue of Lacks.

In July 2021, the Roanoke City Council renamed Lee Plaza in downtown Roanoke to Henrietta Lacks Plaza.

“People are kind of expecting something to be there,” she said. “Right now, it’s just a slot of cement.”

Lacks died from cervical cancer in 1951, but her cells led to the discovery of a polio vaccine.

While researchers used her cells back then without her knowledge, now her name will never be forgotten.

A timeline of how HeLa cells have changed science (NIH)

“This person has contributed to the entire world,” continued White-Boyd. “The entire world. I think that’s an amazing story and I’m glad to be a part of it.”

With the blessing of the Lacks family, White-Boyd partnered with local advocates to help attract private donations.

“When people hear the story and understand the significance of it,” she said. “I think they want to be a part of it. I think that’s why we have the traction we have now.”

To take one step further, an extra $40,000 is needed to develop a virtual reality presentation.

The plan is to partner with the Richmond organization, Hidden In Plain Site, to help create a multimedia project that will honor Lacks for a lifetime.

If you want to help support, you can send a check to the Harrison Museum at P.O. Box 21054, Roanoke, 24018 with “Henrietta Lacks” written in the memo box.

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Alexus joined 10 News in October 2020.