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Frederic Bertley

Museum president and health researcher Frederic Bertley was born in Montreal, Canada in 1970. His father, Leo Bertley, served as professor of history at Vanier College, as editor of the newspaperAfro-Can, and author of Anglophone Blacks in Quebec; his mother, June Bertley, was the founder and president of the Quebec Task Force on Immigrant Women. Bertley graduated from McGill University with his B.Sc. degree in physiology and mathematics in 1994, and his Ph.D. degree in immunology in 1999. From 2000 to 2003, Bertley served as postdoctoral research fellow in development of an HIV vaccine at the Harvard University Medical School and the Children’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.

In 1993, Bertley was named International Project Manager for the International Development Research Council (IDRC). While there, he provided clinical and technical support for researchers in Sudan, Africa and in Haiti, West Indies. After teaching at Northeastern University, Bertley joined Roxbury Community College in 2006 where he directed the Louis Stokes Alliance Membership Program, the Bridges and the Boston Science Partnership (BSP) programs. He was also recruited by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to serve as director of the Research Experience for Undergraduates program. In 2008, Bertley was named vice president of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He also serves as director of the Franklin Center, director of the Franklin Awards Program, and executive director of the Journal of The Franklin Institute.

Bertley was also the founder and director of the Color of Science Program and the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MACSP). He has published research in numerous academic scientific journals including the Journal of Immunology, Nature of Medicine, Diagnostic Microbiology & Infectious Disease, and the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal.Bertley also co-authored the monographs, Absence of Immunologic Injury Following Hgh titer Vaccination in the Sudan, From West Philly to the White House: The Story of the Franklin Institute’s Partnership for Achieving Careers in Technology and Science (PACTS), and The Power of 3 Months: The Positive Impact of a Basic Science Research Internship of Underrepresented Minority Students.

Bertley served on the board of directors of the Philadelphia Biotech Life Sciences Institute (PBLSI), the Garvey Institute, Inc., and the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative. He is a member of the Quebec Black Medical Association and served as a mentor for the Bell Science Foundation. Bertley is a recipient of the Dean’s Service Award from Harvard Medical School and the Dell Inspire 100 World Changers Award. He was also named to the Philadelphia Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” list. Bertley has keynoted or been an invited speaker at numerous venues including the White House, the U.S. Department of Interior, and the United Nations.

Frederic Bertley was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on Jun 18, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.149

Sex

Male

Interview Date

6/18/2013

Last Name

Bertley

Middle Name

M. N.

Schools

Harvard Medical School

McGill University

Harvard

First Name

Frederic

Birth City, State, Country

Montreal

HM ID

BER02

Favorite Season

Spring

Favorite Vacation Destination

Caribbean

Favorite Quote

Think, it's not illegal yet.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Ohio

Birth Date

11/27/1970

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Columbus

Country

Canada

Favorite Food

Chicken Roti from Trinidad

Short Description

Museum president and health researcher Frederic Bertley (1970 - ) , founder and director of the Color of Science Program and the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MACSP), served as vice president of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Employment

Franklin Institute

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, Bos

Wilmer Hale (formally Hale and Dorr LLP).

Roxbury Community College

Life Science Initiative

Harvard University Medical School and Children's Hospital Laboratory

Favorite Color

Yellow

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Frederic Bertley's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Frederic Bertley lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Frederic Bertley describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Frederic Bertley talks about his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Frederic Bertley describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Frederic Bertley talks about his father

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Frederic Bertley talks about his parents' involvement in the Universal Negro Improvement Association

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Frederic Bertley describes how his parents met

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Frederic Bertley describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Frederic Bertley describes his three siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Frederic Bertley talks about his family's debates

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Frederic Bertley describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Frederic Bertley talks about learning French as a child in Quebec, Canada

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Frederic Bertley describes growing up African Canadian in Quebec, Canada

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Frederic Bertley describes becoming the Most Valuable Player at Cooper's Sport Camp

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Frederic Bertley describes a racial incident he experienced as a teenager

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Frederic Bertley describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Frederic Bertley talks about his first primary school

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Frederic Bertley talks about the presence of religion in his family

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Frederic Bertley talks about the United Negro Improvement Association presence in Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Frederic Bertley describes the Garvey Institute pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Frederic Bertley describes the Garvey Institute School pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Frederic Bertley talks about his interest in science during school

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Frederic Bertley talks about his high school

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Frederic Bertley describes attending Vanier College as part of the Canadian educational system

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Frederic Bertley describes his teachers at Vanier College

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Frederic Bertley describes his decision to attend McGill University

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Frederic Bertley describes his experience at McGill University, his interest in immunology and working in the laboratory

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Frederic Bertley describes his experience as a research assistant in Haiti pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Frederic Bertley describes his experience as a research assistant in Haiti pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Frederic Bertley describes being a research assistant in Sudan

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Frederic Bertley talks about his experiences in Sudan

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Frederic Bertley describes his doctoral dissertation pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Frederic Bertley describes his doctoral dissertation pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Frederic Bertley describes his research on the Epstein-Barr virus

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Frederic Bertley describes his research on HIV as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Frederic Bertley describes his research on HIV as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Frederic Bertley describes teaching at Roxbury Community College and Northeastern University

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Frederic Bertley talks about his involvement in the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Frederic Bertley describes his research on HIV vaccines

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Frederic Bertley describes his time working at WilmerHale, LLP

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Frederic Bertley describes how he met his wife

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Frederic Bertley describes becoming a research affiliate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Frederic Bertley talks about why he decided not to start a research laboratory pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Frederic Bertley talks about why he decided not to start a research laboratory pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Frederic Bertley describes being recruited by the Franklin Institute

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Frederic Bertley describes the projects he oversees at the Franklin Institute

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Frederic Bertley describes the demographics of the Franklin Institute

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Frederic Bertley describes the programs for minorities at the Franklin Institute

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Frederic Bertley reflects on his legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Frederic Bertley describes his philosophy on science education

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Frederic Bertley describes his plans for the Garvey Institute

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Frederic Bertley talks about the Philadelphia Chapter of the Garvey Institute

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Frederic Bertley describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Frederic Bertley talks about his family

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Frederic Bertley reflects on his life

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Frederic Bertley describes the importance of The HistoryMakers

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - Frederic Bertley talks about how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$6

DAStory

2$3

DATitle
Frederic Bertley talks about his experiences in Sudan
Frederic Bertley describes his research on HIV vaccines
Transcript
But I had, I had some very--so, Haiti was wonderful. And Sudan ended up being wonderful, too. But there were some really seminal things that impacted me. One was going to Khartoum and seeing where the Blue Nile meets the White Nile. And you know, I mean you grow up as someone with Afrocentric values. And so, you talk about civilizations, you know, great civilizations on the planet. And of course, you got to talk about Kemet, and you know, the Pyramids, and the Valley of the Kings, and all that good stuff. And you just get enamored with it. I mean, anybody, white or black--if you don't enamored with ancient Egypt, then there's something wrong with you. So, you get into that. So the Nile, of course, the Nile River, is you know, that's the mothership that produced all that, you know, that stuff. And I never went to Egypt at that point in time. But to be in Khartoum and see where the Niles meet was--for lack of a better way of putting it--a very spiritual experience. You know, first of all, you actually can see two colored rivers, which are phenomenal. One looks blue and the other looks--they call it the White Nile, but it looks like brownish. And it's because that one is carrying a lot of the soot from underneath the water, and so, dirties, dirties or browns the water. But then they connect. And you see right where they connect. And it's remarkable to see nature be that black and white, literally. You would think, okay, they would blend and-- No, it's a White Nile-- And seeing that, and knowing that that river goes up to Egypt was just, you know, a powerful thing. A second powerful experience was--I was staying in this hotel and it was about twelve stories. And it was, you know, by our standards would have been like a one-star, maybe two-star hotel. By their standards it was, you know, a place where you go for your honeymoon, and then you get married, there, etc. etc. And so, so they had running water, for example. And so, you had running water. You had a little sink with one notch and you could flush your toilet every now and then. And they had electricity. And so, I'm--so again, first time living in a Muslim country. You know, two in the morning, "Waaaaaaaaa", you know, it's the call for prayer. But not ever experiencing that, I'm like, you know, "What the heck is that noise?" You know, it sounds like cows being slaughtered. I'm not trying to be disrespectful, but it sounds--the sounds are very different. And then you learn quickly. Okay, those are the calls for prayer, and it happens, you know, five times a day, blah, blah, blah. Well, the other sound that was--it's burned in my brain like it heard it today. There was one night where I heard this woman wailing--like just screaming at the top of her lungs. And I was convinced she was being beaten. You know, you're not sure--how do I react? Do I go up there to find out what's going on? So, it's clearly coming from inside the hotel, one room. So, I run all the way downstairs to speak to one of the security guys. And when I say security guys--I mean this is no jacket and a badge. You know--some guy who's supposedly the security guy. And I said, "You know, what's going on? It's a lot of noise." And he's like, "Oh, you know, don't worry, my brother. Don't worry, my brother." So, I'm like, alright. I go back up--still going on. I come back down. He's like, "I told you, don't worry." So, I go back up. Finally, the next morning I come out. And it turns out that it was a newlywed couple. And the woman--and this is a practice that happens in Sudan--and I'm not judging it, I'm just reciting it. The woman went through female circumcision. And what they do after they cut off parts of your vaginal region, they then sew you shut to ensure you do not have sex. And when you then have sex for the first time, it is a traumatic painful experience, because they literally have to rip you open. And so here I am again, this little Canadian boy who, you know, read about female circumcision and heard stuff here and there, you know--there's some stories here. But obviously, I've never experienced it. I experienced at an absolute visceral and literal level. And then to see the woman and man a few days later and have to point out that that's the couple, you know, that is burned on my brain forever. And so, you know, Sudan was different, you know. But again, like Haiti, you know, you go to poor places, and the poorest people are the nicest people. And so, there's so many wonderful, positive stories and friendships that I built up through that. But those are some things that-- You know, you can't go through that and be the same person, and come back to Canada and say you're going to go to your class and study for an exam. I mean, it changes you. And if it doesn't change you, you know--hey, that's interesting. So you know, Haiti was a seminal experience, transformative. Sudan was a similar experience, further transformative. And both of them just made me understand that I got to be involved where I can, in international projects. I got to be involved and try my best to contribute to other people's lives, especially those who don't have much. And just really the ethos that my parents taught me started to jump forward as to a priority in my life. And you know, and so-- And also, those also cemented my love for research. And I said okay, I've got to go into the research, because there's not enough people that look like me doing this stuff, and I want to add and contribute and try to work in those areas.$Now you were part of a--okay, a DNA study in 2004, right?$$Uh huh.$$Was this another HIV--$$Yeah. So, between 2000--so I started my postdoc in 2000. And from about 2001 to 2004, there are a bunch of papers that came out on capturing the work. So, all of them are themed around using HIV DNA as the focal point for generating effective vaccines that can hopefully protect from infection of HIV, and therefore protection from AIDS. And so, they're variance of papers that came out that looked at different aspects of that model.$$Okay. This would involve the rhesus monkeys?$$Yes.$$And mucus membranes of--$$Okay. So, that's interesting. So HIV is a virus, as we all know. It affects the immune system, primarily one set of cells. But it's a disease that's transmitted by body fluids. So, what does that mean? That means you can get it through the blood, or you can get it through other body fluids. Well, as a sexual transmitted disease, the sexual body fluids are part of what's called the mucosal system. So, the vaginal and penile and anus areas are part of your mucosal system, which is really from the area of your mouth, all the way down your throat. For example, all the wet linings of your body, is the most simplest way of looking at it. There is an actual immune system that's different from the rest of your body's immune system that specifically line those areas. Because, as you can imagine, if you're breathing in or swallowing stuff everyday, you can get exposed to pathogens. And so, you've developed a mucosal system, sometimes referred to as MALT, mucosal ancillary lymphoid tissue. But we have a mucosal system that can protect us from infection. So, the rationale for vaccine developers--myself and our team included--was that if HIV infects you primarily through the mucosal system, which is you know, about 85 percent or whatever the number is--I'd have to like check. But it's, around 85 percent of HIV infection happens at mucosal surfaces. So the rationale was well, instead of injecting in an arm so it gets in your blood system, or injecting in your muscle for the vaccine, let's introduce the vaccine via that mucosal surface.$$Yeah, just for the record. The other way you could be infected would be through an open cut, or something like that.$$Through an open cut, exactly. But again, that's a very--very few people get HIV--well, in combination with certain sexual practices, you can have open lesions. But again, those lesions are at mucosal surfaces. So, you're absolutely right. If you have an open wound on your hand, and you get exposed, you could get infected. Just like if you have an HIV--so, if you have a blood transfusion with contaminated blood, like Arthur Ashe, you can get HIV. But, but the bulk of the HIV infection through sexual transmission happens at a mucosal sight. So, if you stimulate the immune reaction there, and load the vaccine there, the rationale is you would get a stronger immune response there, and maybe get better protected. And that's what that paper really looks at. And indeed, it works. When you vaccinate the monkeys at the mucosal sites, they are better protected than when you vaccinate the monkeys through intravenous injection. So, again, in the monkey models, it worked really well. Human models, you know, HIV vaccine is still remaining elusive.$$Okay. So, what is the difference between the response of the Rhesus monkeys and humans? I mean in terms of--why is there a difference?$$So, what is the difference? If we knew that, you know, I would not be sitting on this chair. We would be curing HIV all around the world, and be thrilled about it.$$So we're still trying to figure that out?$$Yeah. So, the term they use in immunology is 'correlates of immunity.' Meaning what's responsible, if you will, for a specific kind of immunity that you're looking for. And so, you know, you start in mice--you see the model working. You go to monkeys, you know, that's really close to humans. They're not just mammals, they're primates. And so, you know, they're as close--they're our closest cousins, if you will. And so, the correlates of immunity should be tighter, but there are things that just aren't fully understood. I mean, the bottom line is we don't fully know why a vaccine can work perfectly well in a monkey, and why it doesn't work in a human. Now, there's a gazillion hypotheses out there, but there's no smoking bullet yet. And so that's--as you know, we don't have an HIV vaccine yet. And we have candidate after candidate after candidate vaccine, but we are not there yet.$$Okay. So, who were some of your significant, I guess, colleagues or mentors at Harvard [University, Cambridge, Massachusetts]?$$Sure. So, my direct PI [Principal Investigator] was Anna Alvalini, a wonderful research scientist. She's Italian born, and trained as an M.D. Then she moved to the United States to the National Institute of Health where she got trained, and then came to MIT's Whitehead Institute [Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts]. And then, of course came to, to Harvard, where she set up her lab. So, she was my direct PI. But we worked with a bunch of other very influential researchers, including Norm [Norman] Letvin from Harvard, Dan Barouch from Harvard. You know, there were several interesting scientists who were working--it's part of a bigger group, towards this HIV piece.

Mary Harris

Health researcher Mary Styles Harris was born on June 26, 1949 in Nashville, Tennessee. She later moved to Miami. Her father, George Styles, was finishing his studies at Meharry Medical College, and her mother, Margaret, had completed her degree in business administration at Tennessee State University. In 1963 Harris was one of the first African Americans to enter Miami Jackson High School. Four years later, she graduated 12th out a class of 350. Harris graduated from Lincoln University (Pennsylvania) in 1971, and then enrolled at Cornell University where she Ford Foundation Doctoral Fellowship to study molecular genetics. She graduated with her Ph.D. degree in 1975.

In 1977, Harris became the executive director of the Sickle Cell Foundation of Georgia, where she raised money to fight sickle-cell anemia and was in a position to inform the public about this very serious condition. Harris was awarded a Science Residency Award by the National Science Foundation. After a period spent in Washington, D.C. completing her Science Residency, Harris became the state director of Genetic Services for the Georgia Department of Human Resources. From this position, she could also influence health policies nationwide, and her advice was sought by health officials in other states. In addition to work in Genetic Services, Harris was a part-time assistant professor at Morehouse College in Atlanta and at Atlanta University. To make life even busier, the couple's daughter was born during this period. Then, Harris became founder and president of BioTechnical Communications, which actively focuses on health issues by producing audiovisual materials on such health topics as breast cancer, an issue of major concern among minority women.

Harris’ interest in preventive health care has led her to get involved in new born screening of Sickle-cell disease and sitting on the Atlanta board of the March of Dimes. Also, she has produced television and radio shows, and she hosts a radio show, “Journey To Wellness,” and has developed a documentary, “To My Sisters... A Gift For Life.” Harris has received several awards for her research and advocacy, including the National Cancer Research postdoctoral fellowship, the Ford Foundation Doctoral Fellowship, and the Outstanding Working Woman from Glamour magazine.

Mary Styles Harris was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on December 11, 2012.

Accession Number

A2012.208

Sex

Female

Interview Date

12/11/2012

Last Name

Harris

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Styles

Occupation
Schools

University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey

Cornell University

Lincoln University

Miami Jackson Senior High School

First Name

Mary

Birth City, State, Country

Nashville

HM ID

HAR37

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Tennessee

Favorite Vacation Destination

Paris, France

Favorite Quote

All that glitters is not gold

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Georgia

Birth Date

6/26/1949

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Atlanta

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Barbecue (Ribs)

Short Description

Health researcher Mary Harris (1949 - ) received her Ph.D. degree from Cornell University and is the founder of BioTechnical Communications, Inc.

Employment

BioTechnical Communications, Inc.

Georgia Department of Human Services, Division of Public Health

Medical College of Georgia

Emory University

Atlanta University

National Science Foundation (NSF)

Morehouse College School of Medicine

Sickle Cell Foundation of Georgia

WGTV

Favorite Color

Yellow

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Mary Harris' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Mary Harris lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Mary Harris describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Mary Harris describes her mother's life in Nashville

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Mary Harris describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Mary Harris talks about her parents

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Mary Harris describes her parents' personalities and who she takes after

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Mary Harris talks about her siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Mary Harris describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Mary Harris talks about her early life in Miami, Florida

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Mary Harris describes the sights and sounds and smells of growing up

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Mary Harris describes life in the Brownsville community of Miami in the 1950s

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Mary Harris describes her childhood in Miami

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Mary Harris talks about the integration of Jackson High School in Miami

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Mary Harris talks about the problems with her grade school education

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Mary Harris talks about television in the 1950s and 1960s

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Mary Harris describes her childhood interest in science

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Mary Harris describes her experience in middle school

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Mary Harris talks about African American political activism in the 1960s

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Mary Harris talks about her father's death and the family's new business

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Mary Harris talks about Liberty City, Miami

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Mary Harris talks about President John F. Kennedy's assassination

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Mary Harris describes race relations in Miami in the 1950s and 1960s - part one

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Mary Harris describes the establishment of the Cuban community in Miami

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Mary Harris describes race relations in Miami in the 1950s and 1960s - part two

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Mary Harris describes the Bahamian community in Miami

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Mary Harris discusses Sidney Poitier

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Mary Harris describes her experience at Jackson High School

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Mary Harris describes her science education at Jackson High School

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Mary Harris describes her decision to attend Lincoln University

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Mary Harris describes her experience at Lincoln University

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Mary Harris describes the loss of private medical practices

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Mary Harris describes her decision to pursue a Ph.D. degree instead of a medical degree

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Mary Harris describes how she earned a Ford Foundation fellowship

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Mary Harris describes her experience as a doctoral student at Cornell University

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Mary Harris describes her experience as a doctoral student at Cornell University

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Mary Harris describes her Ph.D. dissertation research on the molecular mechanism of killer factor in yeast

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Mary Harris talks about being married in graduate school

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Mary Harris describes the challenges she experienced during her post-doctoral training at Rutger's Medical College

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Mary Harris describes her role as an executive director of the Sickle Cell Foundation of Georgia

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Mary Harris describes her work in STEM-related programming in collaboration with the National Science Foundation

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Mary Harris talks about Dr. James Bowman

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Mary Harris talks about receiving the Outstanding Working Woman Award

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Mary Harris describes her experience at the Georgia Department of Human Services

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Mary Harris talks about her documentary production, 'To My Sisters, A Gift For Life'

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Mary Harris describes her work in television and radio broadcasting on science and health

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Mary Harris talks about the major health concerns in the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Mary Harris describes her television production, 'Keeping Up With The Walkers' - part one

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Mary Harris reflects upon her non-traditional career path in science

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Mary Harris describes the impact of her work in science communication - part one

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Mary Harris reflects upon her career

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Mary Harris reflects upon potential post-retirement pursuits

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Mary Harris describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Mary Harris talks about her family

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Mary Harris reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Mary Harris reflects upon the people who influenced her life

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Mary Harris talks about how she would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$5

DAStory

4$10

DATitle
Mary Harris describes the challenges she experienced during her post-doctoral training at Rutger's Medical College
Mary Harris talks about her documentary production, 'To My Sisters, A Gift For Life'
Transcript
Okay, okay. So now at Rutgers [University, New Brunswick, New Jersey], now did he, did you, you all moved to New Jersey--$$We moved to New Jersey because he had to go work for Bell Laboratories, which was in Homedel and I got a post-doc at Rutgers Medical School because I had a friend who had gone to Lincoln [University, West Chester, Pennsylvania] with me, who sat next to me at all my classes, we're friends to this day. And in the old days they took roll and they--his last name was Staley [ph.] and my last name was Styles. So we sat next to each other. And when he, he said I don't care what [James] Burney says, I'm going to medical school, which he did. And he was at Rutgers. And when I sent to see him and I said you know I'm having trouble finding a post-doc, he said let me take you to meet the dean. Lo and behold the dean was black, Harold Logan. And Harold Logan said we would love to have you here, I'll arrange the money. It happened just that quickly. And so I had a post-doc. And I went there and was very interested--I was assigned a project that was similar to something I had worked on as a graduate student. And there was a girl who had worked on this problem before me. So what happens is you, when you pick up a project, you go into the project and you replicate the experiments before you and then you move forward. And the replication shouldn't take you long because the work should have been validated, so you kind of replicate the work quickly so that you can make sure that the results are as they are, and then you move forward. Well when I tried to replicate the results, I couldn't get it to work and I was very arrogant. I had been through pure hell at Cornell [University, Ithaca, New York]. I felt I'm really smart. I mean I know a lot. Why can't I get this to work? I did the experiments for three or four months, I couldn't get them to work. Finally somebody said you need to check--I was working with tissue culture. And they said what you need to do is you need to check and see if the cell lines are contaminated. And I did. And the phenomenon that this girl before me had done her dissertation, gotten her Ph.D. on, and they had millions of dollars in grant money riding at the National Institute of Health [NIH] on this. It was an artifact of contaminated cell culture. And before I got there nobody had ever checked. Now this was a problem. It's a problem for a number of reasons. One, I had spent almost now a year has gone by before I really figure out what's, what the problem is here. Two, so I wasted a year. Post-docs are two years. I've wasted a year. Three, I need to tell somebody because it's no good. None of this, none of the papers that got published before I got there are good. None of the research grants, writing and NIH [National Institute of Health] are any good. It's all crap. The department chairman calls me in. He knows I know. He's trying to figure out what I'm going to do. And he says to me look, I know you've wasted a whole year. I, I don't want you to tell anybody about this. What I want you to do is you spend another year, I will write you a recommendation for any job you want anywhere and I will give you a lab assistant. So I was a post-doc. It's like the low, lowest of the low, right. And so you do all that stuff yourself. He says I'll give you a lab assistant, somebody to help you. That way it will take you half the time to do the work that you need to do 'cause you're going to have some help. So I said okay, fine. He said but you know don't, don't tell anybody about this, don't do anything. I'll just do this. I go back, I'm really happy now. I don't care, I don't care, I just want the lab assistant so I can get my work done, get my papers published and go. Well as it turns out, he never had any intention of giving me a lab assistant, never. Several months go by, no lab assistant. I go back to him and I say what about the lab assistant? He says well you know I want to give you the lab assistant, but we don't have any money. I went right downstairs to the dean and I said, I told the dean everything that happened. He was so outraged, he got the money for the lab assistant. I go back upstairs, I see the department chair and I say guess what? You don't have to worry about the money anymore. The dean gave me the money. He was so angry, he told me he said I will not write any letters of recommendation. I couldn't figure out what had happened. I thought I had done a good thing by going and getting the money. He said no, he said I'm not going to write any letters of recommendation for you. This has so angered me. How dare you go over my head? Blah, blah, blah, blah. So I finished up the post-doc, was able to get a job without his letter of recommendation and I thought that's it, I'm through with bench work. It's too much politics involved in this. What I didn't have an appreciation for because I was so young in my career, was that I really did have the upper hand, I just didn't know it. I knew, I mean I could have essentially sat down and said okay, here's what I want. Because they had this stuff going to NIH requesting money for stuff that was really an artifact. It was contaminated with mycoplasma [type of bacteria], the mycoplasma was absorbing the nutrients and that's why they were seeing what they were seeing. It had nothing to do with the cell line whatsoever. But I didn't know, I was young and he knew I was young. And he knew I didn't know how all of that worked, so he essentially took advantage of me. So I--anyway through with lab work, through with bench work and on to my first job, which is in Atlanta [Georgia]. And that's how I wound up in Atlanta.$Okay. Now in 1992, now this is a--so throughout the '80s [1980s], throughout the Reagan Administration and George Bush the first and stuff you were doing, you were working for the state of Georgia. In '92 [1992] you were the founder of, of Biotechnical Communications, Incorporated. Now so just kind of tell us how--$$So in a nutshell, I moved to California with my husband because of his work. And the commute from where we're living into Los Angeles is hellacious. And I say I cannot do this every day. And I start doing technical writing for biotechnology companies. And they tell me while I'm doing this writing, I'm looking at what they're doing and I see this small business innovation research grant. And I think why am I writing this for them? I write this for myself. I go back home and I'm watching TV, I was actually telling Patrice [Coleman, who is observing the interview] this story earlier. And I'm watching a talk show personality talk about breast cancer in black women and she's doing an awful job, it's, it's simply awful. And I say to myself you know, I think I could do a better job. Get on the phone the next morning and I called National Institute of Health [NIH]. I say to the guy you know here's what I want to do. He says let me send you an application. Again, there was no downloading, let me mail you an application. And he kind of walked me through how to fill it out and how to write it. And it got funded on peer review. And I--so I went on to produce this television special 'To My Sisters, A Gift For Life'. It was the first documentary done on black women and breast cancer in this country. And it went on to win some awards. But the television experience so wore me out I thought I cannot go back to this. And then I began to develop my business by writing these grants to NIH, getting the money to do the research around--the research issues around it, but also to do the productions. And so I went from television, to radio, from radio to internet. And so I've just recently finished an animated program based on health around African Americans called 'Keeping Up With The Walkers'. So that's how my business developed.$$Okay, okay. So these--say the, the first one, the breast cancer video 'To My Sisters'. Now where was it broadcast and how--$$BET [Black Entertainment Television] broadcast that.$$Okay.$$And it was interesting because by the time we got to the broadcast after producing the show, by the time we got to the broadcast, they actually did not have an appropriate timeslot. And so what they said was well we'll put it on, but we'll put it on on Sunday morning at eleven o'clock. I said that's when every black woman in America is in church. Why would you do this? But they did. And surprisingly by word of mouth, of course there's some people who were home will see, it was so popular that they had to rerun it. And then we took it after the rerun and we turned it into a video. And I think we wound up distributing about 8,000 of those things across the country because there had been nothing like it before. And it was just a--it was just wonderful to see it.$$Now did you consult with doctors around?$$Yeah.$$Okay.$$I did.$$Who were some of the--$$Tony Disher; he's a radiation oncologist. We--I worked very closely with the American Cancer Society and with the National Cancer Institute. So Oscar Streeter [ph.], Tony Disher, Otis Brawley [ph.]. Those are some of the people that we worked with.$$Okay, and there's several points bulleted here that the, that the video was to accomplish and can you maybe talk about what you intended to do with it?$$Well the goal was to get black women engaged in this dialogue about breast cancer and to get it out of the closet and into the public dialogue. We wanted to--wanted them to understand that even though we have a lower incidence, we have a higher death rate from the disease. We wanted to emphasize that mammography was key and to demonstrate why and how it works and why it works. So, so people will say well I had a mammogram five years ago, why do I need another one? Well we were able to actually demonstrate why an annual mammogram is so important of course because you see early changes in the breast tissue, you see those changes early. So you, you can find the change here as opposed to waiting to five years later when it's a full grown lump. Because by the time you feel a lump, it's been growing for about seven years. So you really are--it, it's great to be able to visualize it way, way when it's microscopic as opposed to waiting until you can feel--although it's nothing wrong with finding a lump that you can feel. The other thing is that treatment is important. It's not only important to get the mammogram, but to get the treatment. And where we tend to fall down now because the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia] has a very aggressive breast and cervical cancer screening program, is the treatment. So black women will say I don't want to, I don't want to do this because I can't afford the treatment. The treatment is going to make me sick, I need to work. I don't need to be home sick. I, I, I don't have anybody to keep my kids and I say to them who will keep your kids when you're dead? It's, it's a simple choice. Who will keep your kids when you're dead versus who will keep your kids now? So you need to see about doing this now. So the, so the problems that arise for black women are not so much money for mammograms, but money for treatment. That's where the biggest--I see the biggest challenge for black women.