Friday, May 27, 2011

Plea for Henrietta Lacks

Johns Hopkins, arguably one of the most famous hospitals in the United States, acknowledged for its achievements in the world of medicine, has trouble giving out blue ribbons to the people who have contributed its success.

Take Vivian Thomas for example. Thomas began his service at Johns Hopkins in 1941. As a medical assistant to Dr. Alfred Blalock, he invented the procedure to cure “Blue Baby Syndrome” and invented surgical tools for cardiac surgery that are still used today. He also trained the majority of medical staff at Hopkins during his tenure which ended in 1985. However, after all his major contributions and over 40 years of service, he received a meager Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree after Blalock had taken the credit for all of his work.

Nevertheless, Vivian Thomas wasn’t the only person overlooked in Johns Hopkins’ history of mystery. Henrietta Lacks is.

Lacks, was a black woman who lived in the community of Turner Station in Baltimore. In 1951, she sought treatment at Hopkins, because “she had a worrisome symptom: spotting on hear underwear” City Paper columnist Van Smith writes in his article “Wonder Woman”. “She was quickly diagnosed with cervical cancer. Eight months later, despite surgery and radiation treatment, she died in the hospital’s segregated ward for blacks.”

During her time at Hopkins, the doctor’s took fragments of Lack’s tumor, cut them into little pieces, bathed them in nutrients and placed the fragments in an incubator.

Smith says that, “the cells multiplied like no other cells outside the human body had before, doubling daily. The head of Hopkins’ tissue culture, Dr. George Gey, went before TV cameras, held up a tube of the cells and announced that a new age of medical research had begun.”

Apparently, cells usually don’t stay alive long enough outside the human body for researchers to experiment and test them, leaving the possibility of gaining any significant data out of the question. Not Henrietta Lacks’ cells. After it was confirmed that the cells could survive any testing or manipulation outside the host, they were named “HeLa.” Dr. Gey sent these cells to more physicians within the United States. Eventually, their demand became almost as high as crude oil is today.

“They were sent all around the world and in even into space” Smith writes. “They were used on an unmanned satellite to determine whether human tissues could survive zero gravity. In the biomedical world, “HeLa” cells are as famous as lab rats and petri dishes.”

In fact, her cells have been used in extensive research in the ongoing search for the cure for AIDS, cancer, gene mapping and countless other scientific pursuits including finding the polio vaccination.

One would have to be stone hearted to not be amazed at this miracle, but the fact that it’s not common knowledge that these scientific advances were made because of Ms. Henrietta’s cells is a crime! Ok, there was a “Henrietta Lacks Day” created in her community of Turner’s Station and at Morehouse College. There was also a documentary created telling her amazing story.

Even so, these Hallmark cards pale in comparison to how mankind has benefited from her contribution! Not a third of Baltimore City has even heard the name Henrietta Lacks before! Lacks’ body is buried in her hometown of Roanoke, Virginia and neither her family members who live in Baltimore or Virginia can identify her resting place, because she has an unmarked grave!

Something has to be done. Hopkins at minimum should give her a respectable tombstone after they identify which one is hers. Hopkins should create a statue in her likeness and place it in or around hospital. Finally, she should be recognized around the world as a humanitarian.

I’ve heard recently that Oprah is picking up Lacks’ story. What I do know is that, if Oprah picks it up, the world will too. Then, she will get the recognition she deserves and her name won’t be on history’s back burner waiting for a boiling pot.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Race in "True Blood"

Imagine that Vampire Bill Compton, everyone’s second favorite leading character, in HBO’s “True Blood”, has brown skin. Imagine that he has brown eyes and kinky hair. Now, imagine that all the vampires in the show have brown skin and kinky hair. The other characters can be left as is. These two quick paint jobs turn the world of “True Blood” entirely upside down. You, as a viewer, may feel quite different about the show.

From the start, the audience knows that the show’s main character, Sookie Stackhouse, is the object of affection of all the men, human or supernatural. She’s also object of envy of all the women who seek to be the center of attention in True Blood’s setting of Bon Temps Louisiana. Well, Sookie’s white, skinny, na├»ve, ultra sexy, innocent. She’s pretty much everything America has admired since Columbus. She just happens to be a telepath. Her blood gives vampires a first time ecstasy high when they drink it. Now, how does the “ol black and white” argument have relevancy in an alternate universe that consists of vampires, werewolves, fairies, telepaths, maenads, and shape shifters? I will tell you.

Initially, in the first episode of True Blood, Sookie, working as a waitress at Merlottes, is mysteriously drawn to the vampire, Bill Compton. This attraction is odd, because the majority of the humans in the show hate the vampires. They’re “cannibals, criminals, damned, dangerous, and just downright evil.” When Mr. Compton enters Merlotte’s, no waitress serves him; everyone stares at him as if he has the plague. Sookie is the only one opened minded enough to speak to him. She is enticed with the idea of talking to and associating with a vampire. Sookie sees them as misunderstood, but their appeal to her is that they are exotic, sexual beings and bad asses. I’m sweating from “Jungle Fever.” As Bill and Sookies’ relationship gets deeper, the entire town resents her for dating a vampire. Even Lafayette, the gay black male cook at Merlottes’, who in his spare time, runs a porn website and sells drugs, is rarely ridiculed for his sexual orientation. His “lifestyle” takes a total backseat to the humans’ hate for the vampires. This is amazingly ironic, because some of the gay people, who have been pushing for gay marriage rights, call gay “the new black.”

What’s increasingly disturbing about this show is how close it resembles the Jim Crow South. Keep in mind, for this exercise that, our vampires are black! As stated, all the vampires are sexually obsessed with Sookie. Sex, in this case, is the lowest, as well as the most animalistic of all human contact. This draws a parallel to Richard Wright’s “Native Son.” “In Native Son”, the protagonist, Bigger, is forced to rape Mary Dalton, a white woman, because she was the embodiment of the American Dream that he, as a black man, could never have. As we know, sex is temporary not permanent. Even Bill, who is Sookie’s soul mate, can never truly have her. His dangerous lifestyle as her protector and his overall animalistic nature as a vampire, consistently destroys their relationship. No matter how good his intentions are for Sookie, he’s doomed for failure as some new creature always wants to use her as a sex slave and or blood bank. Each season, he’s either blackmailed, beat up, or kidnapped. Thus, rendering him powerless to protect the woman he loves. Sound familiar?

What’s even more disturbing is that, the progressive vampires, such as Bill, just want to be considered as equals. They want to be able to go into restaurants and not be scowled be at. They want to be able to have contact with the humans without having to say “Please don’t run; I won’t kill you.” Not scary enough? There’s a radical church called “Fellowship of the Sun” in the “True Blood” series that takes a radical Christian stance using the Bible to justify their violent acts towards vampires. They even go so far as to training “Warriors for God” at a camp that teaches their congregation how to kill vampires. In fact, one of the storylines is a constant debate between the progressive leaders of the vampires and the pastor of the “Fellowship of the Sun” church in an alternate universe Fox News like channel format.

Moreover, the oldest and most powerful vampire, Godric, comes into play in the second season. He exhibits all the mannerisms of say Martin Luther King or Ghandi. In fact, when one of the “warriors for God” comes to assassinate him, Godric disarms the man then tells him to go home. Hmmmmmm..

Imagine how you would feel if we went back stage again only to take the fangs away from the vamps in “True Blood” while leaving their brown skin. Imagine if the “Fellowship of the Sun” wore white hoods. Imagine if the progressive vampires had a march on Washington followed by the passing of a Vampire Rights Act. Imagine how your opinion of “True Blood” would change. Reality check.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Do Terrorists have the right to remain silent?

As last minute shoppers across the U.S. on Christmas Eve 2009 were frantically purchasing gifts for family members, Umar Farouk AbulMatallub, a 23-year old Nigerian citizen, boarded a commercial flight to Detroit from Amsterdam anxious to play Santa too. What was his gift? A pair of underpants loaded with explosives lethal enough to bring down the flight along with 278 American passengers. So, after Matallub is subdued by authorities before he detonates the explosives, he is immediately probed for information and locked away in a cell to never see daylight again. Right? Wrong!

According to a report on, "the CIA passed some information about Flight 253 suspect Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab to the federal interagency channel, but they appear not to have passed along all the relevant information that they may have possessed. The National Counterterrorism Center, which was created post-9/11 to "connect the dots," failed to do that and to ask the intelligence community for additional dots".

After the CIA received this amount of limited information, Matallub, shockingly, was later read his Miranda rights and given lawyer. Consequently, as of this moment, Matallub has the right to remain to silent and refuse questioning.

Since when do terrorists have rights? One who commits or is caught on the verge of committing a inhumane act such as blowing up a commercial flight into scrap metal surely shouldn't be treated as a mere murder suspect or armed robber should he? No! People who commit inhumane acts like this should be tried as aliens. "A creature from outer space". He should have been placed in the hands of the U.S. millitary. Torture in most cases is wrong, but Matallub should have been water boarded until he vomited everything in his mental hard drive. Had an American soldier did the same thing in an enemy country he would have been rendered a human pin cushion and wiped off the face of the Earth.

Lets use the events of 9/11 as an example. In your mind, delete the planes that crashed into the twin towers in NYC and substitute them with flying saucers driven by crazed kamikaze aliens. Not to far fetched for a trailer for the next big blockbuster about an alien invasion now is it?

Sadly, the ironic aspect of the entire situation is perhaps, the same freedoms that Americans enjoy, the very freedoms that terrorist cells like Al qaeda hate America for, are the same freedoms he is benefiting from now.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

BET like other cable channels has chosen to use exploitive reality shows to gain higher ratings

BET, like other cable channels, has chosen to use exploitive and demeaning reality shows as a means to gain higher ratings. Moreover, the "Frankie & Neffie show" [a spin-off from Keyshia Cole's Show] shows that BET will stop at nothing to brainwash the minds of youth nationwide.
Initially BET airing the "Keyshia Cole Show" was an excellent idea. A show that would showcase Keyshia Cole's singing ability and show her daily hardships would give hope to anyone chasing and fulfilling and improbable dream. However, it was anything but that. It seemed that the camera followed around her mother [Frankie], Neffie [sister] and other family members the entire season, confusing viewers as to whose show they were watching. Frankie, a recovering drug addict, would often steal the spotlight from her daughter while dealing with drug addiction, uncontrollably cursing, displaying overt jealousy of Keyshia's adopted mother, and irresponsibly spending Keyshia's money. Thus, Frankie was morphing into a character reminicent of "New Jack City's" Pookie and embarrassing anyone who has become clean [quit use of drugs].

Furthermore, BET saw fit to give Frankie her own show to display her nonsense for 30 minutes at a time. I struggle to find the reasoning behind BET launching this show. One would assume that BET, standing for "Black Entertainment Televison", would air programs with subtance and depth to better occupy the time of African Americans. Moreover, the overall programming of BET only perpetuates the false sterotypes about African Americans shown throughout the media. One of it's only positive shows is "Harlem Heights", which shows a young group of African American college graduates trying to reach the American dream while dealing the pitfalls of everyday life.

Friday, March 27, 2009

T.I.'s Multiple Choice: Life, Death, or Jail?

Three years after his friend Philant Johnson a.k.a. “Big Phil” was killed in a highway shooting, T.I. was faced with a multiple choice question: life, death, or jail? It’s well known that stars because of their fame and fortune must be well protected by security guards and police officers. It’s one thing to be traumatized when your friend is shot dead, but to have your friend killed when you have a small army for protection everywhere you go is something else entirely. One could only imagine what could have been going to through T.I.’s head after the shooting. The music business of “Hip-Hop” is not for the faint of heart as it has buried Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, and a countless number of rising stars due to shootings. Eventually, T.I. decided that the “star studded” protection wasn’t enough; T.I knew that those bullets that hit “Big Phil” were “meant for him”.

In 2007, T.I. was arrested for attempting to buy machines guns and silencers. “These charges would have given him a 10 year sentence and a 250,000 fine for each count. However, after a plea bargain was reached, he only faces a sentence of a year and a day as of March 27, 2009. Furthermore, he has already completed most of his community service hours and will be on probation for three years upon his release while serving sixty additional hours of home detention”(MSNBC,2009).

Who can truly say whether or not T.I. was justified in his decision to purchase machines guns? It’s safe to say that most people have not had to endure their best friend being shot and the paranoia and despair that follows. If there’s one vital flaw in T.I.’s logic, it was the intent to purchase illegal machine guns with silencers. The idea of a machine gun alone is frightening, but a silencer makes the skin crawl. A silencer implies that one would want to kill somebody out of premeditation without anyone discovering his actions.

In the end, the legal system will make sure T.I. pays his debt to society for his actions although, there was no harm done with the exception of him breaking the law. TI. says, “My family, friends, and most of all, my son, King, will suffer tremendously by my absence, but I will suffer the most not being able to there for him and his mother” (T.I.’s Road To Redemption,2009).

Friday, February 20, 2009

Notorious Movie comes up "B.I.G" in exposing the personal life of beloved rapper By: Gillateen

“Notorious” movie comes up “B.I.G.” in focusing the camera lens on the personal life, pitfalls, and triumphs of the world renowned Brooklyn rapper. Starting with his mysterious death then modest but rough beginnings, “Notorious” picks up with Christopher Wallace ( James Woodlard) a.k.a. “Biggie” as a young student in elementary school. He quickly came to the same realization that most young males do growing up in an impoverished area such as Brooklyn, New York that school may slowly lead to a glamorous life, but the world of drug dealing can give one a glamorous life quickly. So he starts to deal drugs which he uses as a means to fatten his pockets and manages to keep hidden from his mother until she receives a call from his high school saying that he had missed a number of weeks. The argument that occurred as a result from that call, forces his mother Voletta Wallace played flawlessly by Angela Bassett to kick Biggie out of the house. From there, he gets even larger in the drug game, meets Puffy (Derek Luke), and Lil Kim (Naturi Naughton) and is introduced to the dream of becoming a rap icon. He and his partner eventually get caught by the police for gun possession. Biggie’s friend takes the charge as a gun possession would end his career early.

In addition, “Notorious” dispels all myths surrounding the relationship between Biggie and his contemporary Tupac Shakur (Anthony Mackie). The film shows a time before the media blew escalated the “East/West Coast Conflict” out of proportion when Tupac and Biggie were friends and honored each others’ craft. In the midst of Biggie making relationships that would later define his life, Puffy proposes to make Biggie a major artist by making a duel project with Biggie and fellow artist Craig Mack to label owner Clyde Davis. Thus, Puffy gets Biggie a major deal making “Bad Boy” (Puffy’s label) public beginning Biggie’s amazing but short career. Biggie eventually then meets Faith Evans (Antonique Smith) and falls in love.

In the end, the Notorius movie highlights the personal life of Biggie and wins crowds. The overall theme it seems was to honor the memory of the great Brooklyn emcee. Movie critic Jamal Anderson states, “the B.I.G. is not out to prove anything to anybody but to lay the name of Biggie to rest and it does exactly that. It shows how he corrected all mistakes made in his major relationships, and in the end made a change for the better to become a father and role model". This film does fall short of displaying the lyrical prowess that impressed crowds and gained so many fans. If one were not familiar with Biggie’s music, he wouldn’t know what made him unique and such an influential as an artist. One could almost mentally take the face of Biggie off of his body in the movie and replace it with the face of any other rapper who had a “street to fame story”.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Political Cartoon in New York Post deemed Obama's Stimulus Plan Monkey Business By: Gillateen

The New York Post published a rather wild political cartoon that referred Obama's Stimulus Plan as Monkey Business. The cartoon displays two white cops. One cop, gun in hand, shoots down a wild chimpanzee. Immediately afterwards, the other cop says "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill". The New York Posts says "The cartoon is a clear parody of a current news event, to wit the shooting of a violent chimp in Connecticut. It broadly mocks Washington's efforts to revive the economy. Again, Al Sharpton reveils himself as a publicity opportunist".

Intially, this cartoon was based upon an incident that occured in Connecticut on Tuesday. A woman kept a chimpanzee as a house pet and treated him as if he was human. She reportedly "slept, ate and drank wine" with the chimpanzee as obscene as it sounds. Later, the chimpanzee goes mad and attacks his owner's friend. As a result, his owner stabs the chimp and calls 9-1-1. When the police arrive, they shoot the chimpanzee dead.

Furthermore, Rev. AL Sharpton, on MSNBC, responds with the point of African Americans being sterotyped as monkeys since the days of the Transalantic Slave Trade and goes on to say that "that Pres. Obama is the face and representative of the New Stimulus Package. Thus, the New York Times is inferring that the Chimpanzee in the cartoon is Pres. Obama". Interestingly enough, a freelance writer, Eric Nelson points out a "beware of the dog sign" in the cartoon. Nelson believes that this sign is referring to the bloodhounds that were unleashed on runaway slaves and the police dogs that were used to attack blacks during the Civil Rights Movement.

In closing, my "spidey sense" says OVERT RACISM!!!! In today's day and age, when verbally firing upon a person or group of people, one must be accurate and politically correct. This cartoon was in poor taste and should have not been published. If the New York Post wanted to "mock the government's efforts", then the cartoon should've have featured a donkey and or elephant being shot down. To say that this cartoon was not a direct attack on Obama is ridiculous. That's like saying the "Microsoft Company and all of its products suck" and expect Bill Gates not to be offended.