Millburn's First Community Big Read Goes Off Without a Hitch

The book that gave the Lacks family the fame they deserved, titled The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot Credits:
The set up of the assembly, which includes a panel of MHS seniors. Justin Dower, Julia Fine, Teddy Moskowitz Credits: Max Retik
Posters of Henrietta's life achievements that are on almost every wall in MHS Credits: Max Sauberman
Henrietta's son and grandson. David "Sonny" Lacks (right) and his son David Lacks (left) Credits: Max Retik
The author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot Credits:
The father-son duo signing books for lucky fans of their mother Credits: Max Retik
The leaders of the assembly talk to the students as they present information about their mother's life Credits: Max Retik
David Lacks (left) and his father, David "Sonny" Lacks Credits: Max Retik

MILLBURN NJ - Millburn High School students, mostly sophomores and freshman, were in for a treat early Tuesday morning when they gathered among faculty and community members for Millburn’s first “Big Read.”

Headed by the school’s English chair, Jessica Siegel, the assembly brought further insight into a Baltimore family that has become known for their influence in modern science history.

Last summer, students, teachers, and Millburn residents were asked to read "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," by Rebecca Skloot. This nonfiction book is about Henrietta Lacks, known for her contribution to science. Scientists were able to duplicate her immortal HeLa cells, which were discovered during her treatment for cervical cancer.  These HeLa cells are substantial because they can never die and have brought great contributions to modern research, like the discovery of the polio vaccine and advacements in cancer research. There was some controversy related to Lacks’ contribution since the scientists used the cells without her permission. 

Sign Up for E-News

Due to the book's ability to tie together science, English, history, and ethical issues, "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" was praised by many as a great selection by the MHS English department.

The assembly was comprised of a picture slide show and a question and answer formatted panel made up of MHS seniors with a passion for journalism. The two guests were David (Sonny) Lacks, the son of the late Henrietta Lacks, and Henrietta’s grandson, David Lacks. The Lacks son and grandson, enlightened the crowd with light humor, stories from their past, and described how HeLa cells have contributed to scientific inquiry. They also recounted how Lacks’ story ignited debate on the controversial issues of using cells without a patient’s permission.

The moderators of the panel were MHS students Justin Dower, Julia Fine, and Theodore Moskowitz, who are prospective journalists after they move on from MHS next year. The questions and comments they read to the assembly were contributed by students of all ages from middle school to high school. One comment that raised awareness of HeLa cells’ fascinating contributions came from a Millburn Middle School 7th grader and read:

”Thank you. My brother, at a very young age suffered from cancer. Thankfully, our hospital was blessed with skilled doctors and effective medicine. After I read the book this summer, my mother explained to me that it was your mother’s cells that were used in the creation of the medicines that saved my brother’s life.”

This quote, read by Teddy Moskowitz to Henrietta’s family members, filled the assembly with emotion and brought joy to the hearts of all of the audience members. A question to Henrietta’s son, Sonny, was asked by Julia Fine, “Would you donate cells to scientific research if you were asked?” Sonny Lacks responded enthusiastically about the great contributions that his mother’s cells have made in science and went on to say that he would donate his cells because of all of the inspiring stories he has heard over the years of people benefitting from donated cells.

Siegel went on to emphasize the fact that this assembly would not be possible without the generous donations from the Ed Foundation and the PTO. When asked about the success of Millburn’s first Big Read, Siegel mentioned that there was such great support for this first community Big Read and that there are plans to implement it in upcoming years. Siegel also talked about how Big Reads in other communities and college campuses have succeeded in getting more people involved in reading and discussing imprortant books.

The Big Read that took place Tuesday was rescheduled from November 1, 2012, due to Hurricane Sandy. Luckily, the bad weather could not discourage eager students, faculty, and community members from packinginto the high school auditorium for the spectacular seminar and PowerPoint. The assembly was so popular that some students were left watching from the cafeteria, but Sonny and David Lacks’ words were educational and inspirational no matter from where they were heard.


- Aaron Friedman is a sophomore at Millburn High School

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Millburn/Short Hills

Vehicle Stolen from Residence; Millburn Police Department Investigating

May 10, 2018

On May 2, 2018 Millburn Police Officer Barbosa responded to Neiman Marcus on a theft report. Neiman Marcus personnel report a black male wearing a black jumpsuit with the word “Kappa” on the front, and a black male wearing a blue shirt with the word “Champion” on the front each took a backpack valued at $1195.00 each and left the store without making payment. The incident ...


AtlantiCast: Episode 15

On this week’s AtlantiCast, learn some important tips for controlling and avoiding diabetes from an Atlantic Health System expert, see how Atlantic Health is advancing cutting-edge research, hear what’s being done to keep health care environmentally friendly and much more!


Upcoming Millburn Township Committee Primary Election

May 12, 2018

Dear Fellow Millburn and Short Hills Residents,

Having given the selection of a candidate for the upcoming Millburn Township Committee primary election some serious thought, I have come to the conclusion that Corey Biller has the credentials to move the Township forward in a positive manner.

I know that Corey will bring a new and positive sensibility to the Committee, one that is ...

Upcoming Events


Mon, May 21, 7:45 PM

Education Center, Millburn

Millburn Board of Education Meeting


Thu, May 24, 7:00 PM

Livingston Public Library, Livingston

Understanding Hearing Loss

Health & Wellness


Wed, May 30, 6:15 PM

Millburn High School (Back grass fields), Millburn

Millburn Color Run

Arts & Entertainment Education Giving Back Other


Wed, June 6, 7:00 PM

Livingston Public Library, Livingston

Mindfulness Approach to Stress

Health & Wellness

Suicide Awareness and Intervention Training coming to Millburn Library May 23

May 19, 2018

Caring Contact, a crisis hotline that serves Northern and Central New Jersey, will host Suicide Awareness and Intervention Training at the Millburn Library on May 23, 6:30-8:30 p.m. There is no cost for this training but space is limited so registration is recommended.


To register, visit


Caring contact's ...

Uber & Mack-Cali Partnership Expands to Four New Locations in Short Hills

NEW JERSEY - Uber and Mack-Cali Realty Corporation (NYSE: CLI) are announcing the expansion of their relationship to include a commuter ridesharing partnership at four commercial properties in Short Hills, NJ. Similar to a program that was announced in February at Mack-Cali’s properties in Metropark, the partnership caters to the modern office worker’s desire to live a car-free, ...

Street Dedication Ceremony Honoring Scoutmaster Fineran Set for Sunday

Street Dedication Ceremony Honoring Late Scoutmaster Ken Fineran Officially Scheduled
Sunday May 20 at 11:00 am

Millburn Township and Boy Scout Troop 17 of St. Rose of Lima will be honoring the life and accomplishments our beloved Scoutmaster Kenneth W. Fineran on Sunday, May 20th. Troop 17 Scouts, in conjunction with Millburn Township and St. Rose of Lima Church, have scheduled two ...

SURVIVING A STROKE: Quick Medical Response Gives Mom Her Life Back

Carotid artery dissection. It’s one of the most common causes of stroke in younger adults.

And while you might not associate the word “stroke” with younger patients, the condition – if not treated immediately – could lead to paralysis and even death.

Lindsey Singh can attest to the importance of immediacy. The 31-year-old mother of two from Flanders experienced ...