Henrietta Lacks (Courtesy Photo)

By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,
Report for America Corps Member,

Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Medicine announced on Thursday that minority- and locally-owned businesses would lead the construction and design of the new on-campus building named in honor of Henrietta Lacks, whose cells continue to advance biomedical research and medicine today. 

The project also intends to direct 30% of its external spend to minority-owned and women-owned, disadvantaged business enterprises and 20% of its external spend to local business enterprises, which outstrips Johns Hopkins’ existing economic inclusion commitments. 

Johns Hopkins announced plans to construct a building to commemorate Mrs. Lacks’ legacy in 2018. Now, the handpicked businesses for the project include Vines Architecture and Baltimore construction firm Mahogany, which will work in collaboration with Turner Construction Company. 

“The Henrietta Lacks Building represents the next step in Johns Hopkins’ journey with members of the Lacks family to create meaningful programs that recognize and celebrate their grandmother, mother and great-grandmother, including scholarships for Baltimore City students, an annual symposium, and a permanent historical exhibit on the Johns Hopkins medical campus,” said Ronald Daniels, president of The Johns Hopkins University. “We hope that this building and the collaborative, community-focused work it houses serve as an enduring reminder of our collective past, while also guiding us toward a more just and equitable future for our neighbors and communities.”

Ronald Daniels, president of The Johns Hopkins University. (Courtesy Photo by John Hopkins University)

Mrs. Lacks was an African-American woman from Baltimore County who received treatment for cervical cancer from Johns Hopkins Hospital in the early 1950s. While she received the best care available at the time, the treatment was ultimately unsuccessful, and Mrs. Lacks died from the disease. 

A sample of her cancer cells were sent to prominent cancer researcher Dr. George Grey, who had been collecting cells from all patients who came to Johns Hopkins Hospital with cervical cancer. While all of the previous samples quickly died in Dr. Grey’s lab, Mrs. Lacks’ cells continued to regenerate. 

Today, they are known as “HeLa” cells, the first immortal cell line.  

Vines Architecture, an award-winning Black-owned firm, has already conducted a yearlong feasibility study for the new building, and it will serve as the project’s architect of record. The firm’s leaders have previously worked on prominent projects, including the programming and design of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. 

Mahogany, a Black-owned construction company, will collaborate with Turner Construction Company to oversee the pre-construction services and offer construction management. 

Johns Hopkins will also reconvene the Henrietta Lacks Building Community Advisory Committee, which includes Mrs. Lacks’ family members, East Baltimore community members and representatives from Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Medicine. The committee will offer input during the design process and assess proposed options at set milestones throughout the project. 

The 34,000-square-foot facility is set to open in 2025. It will adjoin Deering Hall, a historic structure that houses the Berman Institute of Bioethics. The building will support multidisciplinary and complementary programs of the Berman Institute and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, as well as other Johns Hopkins University programs.

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