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Heroes

HeLa cells have saved millions of lives, but they were taken without her consent.

When Henrietta Lacks died of cancer in 1951, she and her family had no idea her tragic passing would change the world.

Shortly before her death, scientists harvested cells from her body that would directly lead to breakthroughs in AIDS research, leukemia, flu treatments, and the polio vaccine.

Then, most cell samples taken from patients quickly deteriorated. The samples taken from Lacks, however, proved "surprisingly robust," allowing them to be replicated in labs countless of times. Perhaps just as importantly, those unstoppable "HeLa" cells allowed scientists to continue research, but not have to experiment on other people.


But Lacks, the granddaughter of slaves, never knew her cells were being harvested because doctors didn't tell her. Getting her consent to use her cells for tests beyond Lacks' own medical treatment apparently never occurred to those who used them for their later research, and subsequent profits, over the years. Her family also didn't know about her historic contributions to science for more than two decades until a relative stumbled upon the open secret after the brother-in-law of a family friend spotted the connection to a National Cancer Institute study.

That discovery, and the attention that followed, helped shine a spotlight on medical consent as well as the often forgotten groundbreaking contributions of black women.

Today, it seems almost imaginable that someone would take your medical history, let alone your actual cells, without permission. That they were taken from a woman of color only compounded a massive ethical hole in medical science that forced researchers to not only think about the potential of test subjects, but also the ethics of how that vital material is obtained.

We may never know precisely why doctors didn't feel obligated to tell Lacks or her family about her contributions. Whatever those reasons may be, even if it was just a general lack of consideration, sadly aligned with a history of not acknowledging the huge role of black women in American history.

But since, there has been a sustained effort to right this historic wrong and give Lacks' the credit she deserves.

Her family first became aware of Lack's ever-growing legacy back in the 1970's, but there has been a steady effort to tell her incredibly important story to the world. There's a best-selling book, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," and a 2017 HBO film of the same name starring Oprah Winfrey.

And now, the National Portrait Gallery honored her with a beautiful life-sized portrait.

We're proud to share this Kadir Nelson portrait of Henrietta Lacks with our friends at @NMAAHC . The striking posthumous portrait was inspired by two surviving photographs that are now in the possession of her family. Commissioned by HBO on the occasion of the HBO movie premiere of "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Oprah Winfrey and Alan Ball, Nelson wrote of the portrait, “I elected to paint a prideful and glowing portrait of Henrietta Lacks, who is often referred to as, ‘The Mother of Modern Medicine,’ visually juxtaposing art and science. She stands with her beautifully manicured hands crossed, covering her womb (the birthplace of the immortal cell line) while cradling her beloved Bible (a symbol of her strong faith). Her deep red dress is covered with a vibrant floral pattern that recalls images of cell structure and division.” Other symbolism includes her bright yellow hat, which functions as a halo, her pearls as a symbol of the cancer that took her life, and the repeated hexagonal wallpaper pattern, a design containing the “Flower of Life,” an ancient symbol of immortality and exponential growth. The buttons missing from her dress reference the cells that were taken from her body without her permission #myNPG

A post shared by National Portrait Gallery (@smithsoniannpg) on

"This is amazing!" Lacks' granddaughter said at the portrait's unveiling. "Soon as you walk through the doors, there she is!"

The portrait by artist Kadir Nelson will be displayed at both the National Portrait Gallery and The National Museum of African American History and Culture, which many are saying is a fitting tribute to both her contributions to science, and the way science and American culture have so often benefited from women of color, often without consent or proper accolades.  

The painting itself is deeply embedded with meaning including the cellular design that framed the background of the portrait, and the pearl necklace that's reportedly a reference scientists made to the cancer destroying her cells.

"It will spark a conversation," National Portrait Gallery painting and sculpture curator Dorothy Moss said, "about people who have made a significant impact on science yet have been left out of history."

Scientists and doctors have made immense medical advancements thanks to Lacks' contributions. Now, the next frontier for all of us is in elevating the many black women, like Lacks, who are serving humanity in incredible ways.

No one can change how Lacks and so many others like her were taken for granted in the past, but honoring her monumental legacy is a big step toward moving us all into a brighter tomorrow.

Finally, someone explains why we all need subtitles

It seems everyone needs subtitles nowadays in order to "hear" the television. This is something that has become more common over the past decade and it's caused people to question if their hearing is going bad or if perhaps actors have gotten lazy with enunciation.

So if you've been wondering if it's just you who needs subtitles in order to watch the latest marathon-worthy show, worry no more. Vox video producer Edward Vega interviewed dialogue editor Austin Olivia Kendrick to get to the bottom of why we can't seem to make out what the actors are saying anymore. It turns out it's technology's fault, and to get to how we got here, Vega and Kendrick took us back in time.

They first explained that way back when movies were first moving from silent film to spoken dialogue, actors had to enunciate and project loudly while speaking directly into a large microphone. If they spoke and moved like actors do today, it would sound almost as if someone were giving a drive-by soliloquy while circling the block. You'd only hear every other sentence or two.

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Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson in 2006.

A startling number of professional athletes face financial hardships after they retire. The big reason is that even though they make a lot of money, the average sports career is relatively short: 3.3 years in the NFL; 4.6 years in the NBA; and 5.6 years in MLB. During that time, athletes often dole out money to friends and family members who helped them along the way and can fall victim to living lavish, unsustainable lifestyles.

After the athlete retires they are likely to earn a lot less money, and if they don’t adjust their spending, they’re in for some serious trouble.

In a candid interview with NFL Hall of Famer and TV personality Shannon Sharpe, Chad Ochocinco (legally Chad Johnson) revealed that he saved 80 to 83% of the $48 million he made in the NFL by faking his lavish lifestyle because it made no sense to him.

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Nature

Pennsylvania home is the entrance to a cave that’s been closed for 70 years

You can only access the cave from the basement of the home and it’s open for business.

This Pennsylvania home is the entrance to a cave.

Have you ever seen something in a movie or online and thought, "That's totally fake," only to find out it's absolutely a real thing? That's sort of how this house in Pennsylvania comes across. It just seems too fantastical to be real, and yet somehow it actually exists.

The home sits between Greencastle and Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, and houses a pretty unique public secret. There's a cave in the basement. Not a man cave or a basement that makes you feel like you're in a cave, but an actual cave that you can't get to unless you go through the house.

Turns out the cave was discovered in the 1830s on the land of John Coffey, according to Uncovering PA, but the story of how it was found is unclear. People would climb down into the cave to explore occasionally until the land was leased about 100 years later and a small structure was built over the cave opening.

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Family

American mom living in Germany lists postpartum support and women are gobsmacked

“Every video you make gets me closer to actually moving to Germany.”

U.S. mom living in Germany shares postpartum support she received.

Having a baby is not an easy feat no matter which way they come out. The pregnant person is either laboring for hours and then pushing for what feels like even more hours, or they're getting cut from hip to hip to bring about their bundle of joy. (Unless you're one of those lucky—or rather not-so-lucky—folks who get to labor for hours only to still end up in surgery.)

Giving birth is hard and healing afterward can feel dang near impossible, especially given that most states in the U.S. only offer six weeks of maternity leave and it's typically unpaid. But did you know that not everyone has that experience?

A mom who had her first child in the U.S. before meeting her current husband and relocating to Germany is shedding light on postpartum care in her new country. The stark contrast is beyond shocking to women living in the U.S. and she's got a few considering crossing the ocean for a better quality of life.

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Meghan Elinor chimes in on the Starbucks tipping debate.

Tipping culture is rapidly changing in America, so understandably a lot of people aren’t sure what to do when they buy a coffee and the debit card reader asks for a tip. It used to be that people only tipped bartenders, drivers, servers and hairdressers.

Now people are being asked to tip just about any time they encounter a point-of-sale system. There is a big difference between tipping a server who lugged around hot plates of food for an hour-long meal and someone who simply handed you an ice cream cone.

"We're living in an era of inflation, but on top of that, we've got tipping everywhere—tipflation. I take it a step further and call it a tipping invasion. Because that's really what I think it is," etiquette expert Thomas Farley (aka Mister Manners) told CBS 8.

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Pop Culture

One moment in history shot Tracy Chapman to music stardom. Watch it now.

She captivated millions with nothing but her guitar and an iconic voice.

Imagine being in the crowd and hearing "Fast Car" for the first time

While a catchy hook might make a song go viral, very few songs create such a unifying impact that they achieve timeless resonance. Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” is one of those songs.

So much courage and raw honesty is packed into the lyrics, only to be elevated by Chapman’s signature androgynous and soulful voice. Imagine being in the crowd and seeing her as a relatively unknown talent and hearing that song for the first time. Would you instantly recognize that you were witnessing a pivotal moment in musical history?

For concert goers at Wembley Stadium in the late 80s, this was the scenario.

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