One Read program's chosen book raises community discussions

Tuesday, September 27, 2011 | 6:52 p.m. CDT; updated 10:42 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 27, 2011

COLUMBIA — There's been a lot of talk throughout Columbia lately about race and prejudice, culture and class, ethics and medicine.

It all stems from the book chosen for this year’s community-wide One Read library program, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot. 



WHAT: A One Read 2011 event titled A Son’s Perspective: A Visit with David “Sonny” Lacks

KFRU’s David Lile will interview David “Sonny” Lacks, Henrietta Lacks's son, about his reactions to his mother's fame, Rebecca Skloot's book and the benefits derived from research using his mother's cells.

WHERE: Columbia College, Launer Auditorium

WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday

Source: One Read Program Guide, Daniel Boone Regional Library

"When I first started reading it, it just grabbed me," said Marva Brown, a retired nurse who was one of the first black people to go to Hickman High School in 1954. "It brought back so many memories of how black people used to be treated. You can relate it to things that are still happening today."

The book is a narrative nonfiction that details the life of Henrietta Lacks, a black woman whose cells were taken without her knowledge or consent in 1951.

The title comes from Lacks’s "immortal" cells, named "HeLa" by the scientific community, which are still alive and replicating. They have been used as the foundation for groundbreaking medical research and medical advancements for the last 60 years.

Nancy Finke, an avid reader, said that conversation about the nation’s history with segregated hospitals and sub-par medical care for minorities came up in almost every One Read discussion she attended.

During a presentation on the history of Columbia’s black community, Mary Beth Brown, archivist at the Walters-Boone County Historical Museum, led a discussion on the effects of these disparities.

"Someone said, 'You just didn’t get sick,'" Finke said. "One woman talked about her baby brother dying because he couldn’t get care, or only having five beds for black people at Boone Hospital. I know that’s the way it was, but it’s just hard to imagine."

Finke said other discussion themes were the difficulty of communication between human beings and the question of medical ethics, patient care and the rights of the individual.

"We view the most insignificant things that we own as mine, mine, mine," Finke said. "But what about our cells? Who owns them? People talked about that quite a bit, but we didn’t come to any conclusions."

One Read, now in its 10th year, is a regional library program in which participants vote on one book to read as a group. The goal is to "create a community around the book," library spokeswoman Doyne McKenzie said.

So far in September, more than 750 people from the community participated in One Read discussion groups and activities tailored for exploring the book’s content, she said.

"Our goal has certainly been met," McKenzie said. "We have had people lingering to visit with each other after every program."

"It’s almost a mystic event in the community," Finke said. "Many people, reading the same book and discussing it. I’m sure this kind of common experience brings us closer together."

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