‘Hole in the Head’: What Happened to Vertus Hardiman?

A promo of the film Hole in the Head is making its way around the Web. The promo features the late Vertus Hardiman, who, along with nine other children, was experimented on with radiation in 1927. The children all attended the same elementary school in Lyles Station, Ind., and were severely irradiated during a medical experiment conducted at the local county hospital.

Narrated by Dennis Haysbert, the documentary reports that the experiment was misrepresented as a newly developed cure for the scalp fungus known as ringworm. In reality the ringworm fungus was merely the lure used to gain access to innocent children whose unsuspecting parents blindly signed permission slips for the treatment.

Vertus was 5 years old and the youngest. Now, after 20 years of friendship with writer-producer Wilbert Smith through their church choir, Vertus unburdens himself to Wilbert with an incredible story, finally exposing the severe physical complication caused by this shocking medical crime. The crime had severe physical complications for Vertus — namely a harshly irradiated and malformed head, with an actual hole in his skull.

Remarkably, not one person in his community had ever been aware of Vertus’ suffering because he always wore a wig and woolen beanie to cover the shame. During filming, Vertus revealed his secret, stating, “For over 80 years, only four individuals outside a few medical specialists have ever seen my condition; I hide it because I look like some monster.”

Over his life, Vertus was criticized, teased and scorned by acquaintances who had no idea what the wig had been hiding for 80 years.

Wilbert’s in-depth research led to his discovering four additional survivors of this horrific event. The promo for this film is unbelievable and literally uncovers the unimaginable and unthinkable results of medical experimentation gone awry. Many are familiar with the Tuskegee experiment and other high-profile cases of medical experimentation, like the case of Henrietta Lacks, but few are able to actually see the results of those experiments.

This promo and film go where others have not, informing and shocking viewers, while demonstrating Hardiman’s capacity for love and forgiveness (NSFW).

Read more about the documentary on the official website of Hole in the Head.


Alveda King: Different Year, Same Lies on MLK’s Stance on Abortion

Can you say angry? If not, read Alveda King’s press release entitled, “Different Year, Same Lies from Planned Parenthood about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” In the press release, Dr. Alveda King, full-time Director of African American Outreach for Priests for Life, objects to Planned Parenthood’s latest statements that imply that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would support the organization’s agenda. “Sometimes I wonder if Planned Parenthood will ever get tired of lying about my Uncle Martin,” said King, “and then I remind myself that a business built on the lie that a baby isn’t a baby is a stranger to the truth.  Just to be clear one more time, there’s no way Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., were he alive today, would support an organization that has helped destroy one-quarter of the African American population.” Alveda King helped contribute to that number since she has admitted to having two abortions herself, which would make her a hypocrite.

Read the story in its entirety on TheRoot.com.

African Americans and Domestic Violence: The Real Cost to Our Community

Domestic violence in the African–American community must stop. It seems like an easy enough thing to say, but doing it seems like something else all together. We live in a society marked by violence. This country was founded on violent acts, many of which were against women, particularly Black women who were slaves. It would seem that having suffered such violence at the hands of former male and female slave owners, our cultural practices would demand that we respect and protect Black women from harm. It is truly sad, when the one thing that we can count on statistically speaking, is harm in the form of physical and emotional abuse from our intimate partners.

According to the study “When Men Murder Women: An Analysis of 2006 Homicide Data,” released by The Violence Policy Center, a national non-profit organization that conducts research on violence in the United States, 551 African American women were murdered by males in 2006. The study stated that there were 1,818 race-identified females murdered by males. While white women accounted for the largest total of those killed (1,208), African American women were killed at a rate nearly three times higher. How did most of the murders occur? Guns killed 305 of those women.

Intimate partners are literally blowing Black women away for a variety of reasons that include stress, mental illness, control, narcissism and pathology. Mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces and cousins are leaving this earth with wounded bodies and spirits and sadly enough the numbers are increasing, not decreasing. What does this mean for the black community?

It means that we have to do something to break the cycle of abuse and violence in our homes. If the majority of Black households are headed by women, what happens when those women are killed or injured? Talking about domestic violence hasn’t helped. High profile cases like those involving Chris Brown and Rihanna, Bebe Winans, Big Pun, Don Cornelius, Jennifer Hudson’s sister and Tyrese Gibson haven’t helped. Women offering testimony in church and on YouTube hasn’t helped. Men and women creating awareness campaigns during the month of October hasn’t helped.

If you turn on the television or read a newspaper, there is a very high likelihood that a woman murdered by an intimate partner is somewhere in the content.

We know that domestic violence breaks up families. We know that children suffer emotionally, financially and spiritually with the sudden loss of a parent. We know that it leaves irreparable mental and emotional scars on women and men. But do we know the economic costs of domestic violence to the black community? Let me break it down for you.

According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, in the United States, the cost of intimate partner violence exceeds $5.8 billion each year, with $4.1 billion going towards direct medical and mental health services.

Victims of intimate partner violence lost 8 million days of paid work because of violence committed against them by current or former husbands, boyfriends or dates. That equals 32,000 full-time jobs and almost 5.6 million days of household productivity.

According to the National Funeral Director’s Association, the average cost of a funeral in the U.S. is $7,323 thousand each year. In 2006, Black families spent over $4 million burying African American victims of domestic violence.

According to the World Health Organization, the cost of domestic violence in the United States amounts to 3.3 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). (read more)

This is an excerpt from an article that appeared on TheLoop21.com, where Nsenga serves as managing editor.

October Ends but Domestic Violence Continues

As I wrote in this space a few weeks ago, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Now, the beauty of an “Awareness Month” is that important issues, like domestic violence, are highlighted and discussed in ways that do not necessarily happen during other times of the year. It is an opportunity to go all out to bring pressing issues to the forefront.

The danger of an Awareness Month, however, is that important issues, like domestic violence, get relegated to one month out of the year — when it is something that we should be working to end 365 days each year. Unfortunately, unless a major pop star gets beaten up by another pop star or celebrity (a la Chris Brown and Rihanna, Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson Lee), then conversations and activism appear to reside in the margins of society as opposed to front and center, which is what it will take to end domestic violence.

Having said that, each time that Domestic Violence Awareness Month comes around, I endeavor to learn something about the issue that I did not previously know. Those of you who follow this column know that I am committed to exploring and exposing gender issues. Over the last year, I have written tirelessly about victims of domestic violence, mostly women. Although I never feel that I am writing in vain, I do wonder why it is so hard to get people to do the right thing.

Although most of the programming and resources about domestic violence are geared toward women, because we are the main victims and survivors of this community disease, men are also victims of domestic violence. How many little boys witness domestic violence incidents against their mothers? How many men have been on the receiving end of an intimate partner’s physical or mental abuse? According to Battered Men, an organization that helps male victims/survivors of domestic violence, intimate partners batter 835,000 men each year.

This is clearly an issue that affects us all, so why do we only confront it as a nation once a year? According to the domestic violence prevention group SOAR, intimate partners in the United States physically assault 1.5 million women annually. Since many women experience multiple victimizations every year, an estimated 5.9 million physical assaults are perpetrated against U.S. women annually. More than 1,500 women are killed by intimate-partner violence each year. That means that each day, more than three women are killed by an intimate partner.

Domestic violence has become so normalized that we rarely flinch when we hear about such stories on the news. These stories are reported every day of the year, multiple times, yet and still, the number of incidents increase each year.

One-third of all 911 calls are related to domestic violence incidents. According to EHS Today, domestic violence costs businesses $7 billion per year in lost wages, sick leave, absenteeism, non-productivity and direct medical care costs. (more)

This is an excerpt from an article that originally appeared on Creative Loafing where Nsenga serves as cultural critic.

In Life and Facing Death, Patrick Swayze Forged His Own Path


Iconic dancer and actor Patrick Swayze passed away after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

I put “dancer” before “actor” because he grew up dancing in his mother’s dance studio and eventually made his way into acting. I remember hearing that he was sick and seeing the photos of a once fantastic-looking man becoming pale and gaunt and a shell of his former self. I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear that someone is ill, especially with cancer, I literally get sick to my stomach. Why? Because cancer is a beast, and I have watched too many wonderful people succumb to one form of it or another.

Swayze’s illness struck me because my paternal grandfather also died from the disease in 1998. He too was a good-looking old guy (much older than Swayze) with so much energy and enthusiasm. I loved my grandpa so much because he was always happy to see us. He always greeted us with a smile and spoiled us as grandparents do. When I heard that my grandpa was sick, I immediately felt nauseated — and then went to see about him. The first time I saw him after the diagnosis, he looked like the Grandpa Earl I remember — a strong, robust man. The last time that I saw him alive, however, pancreatic cancer had literally eaten him away, and so quickly.

As I watched Patrick Swayze decline in the public eye, I thought about the toll this illness was taking on a man once known for his physical power and prowess on the dance floor; that was the part of the illness my grandpa hated the most. Swayze was also loved for his ability to work around Hollywood, a town known for fluff, yet maintain his good ol’ boy charm. After his success with Dirty Dancing, the industry tried desperately to put him in the sex-object box. People pulled on him from multiple directions — he was asked to endorse a cologne and to record an album, but he resisted, wanting to be something other than what Hollywood imagined him to be. (more)

This article originally ran in Creative Loafing, where Nsenga K. Burton serves as cultural critic. She is also managing editor for TheLoop21.com and Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Goucher College.


People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — aka PETA — has done it again. Yes, the self-righteous, protector of all living things, has managed to ruin a great idea by following what must be a successful strategy: objectifying women.

The last time the organization did something so foolish was when PETA ran advertisements during the Super Bowl showing scantily clad women engaging in sex acts and gyrating with vegetables. The group that was hopping mad about Michael Vick’s abuse of animals ran an ad campaign that objectified women in a very traditional, stereotypical way. I guess they decided to overlook the studies that link the sexualization of women to domestic abuse and sexual violence against women.

Instead of addressing the issue — cruelty to animals — head-on, PETA made a poor attempt at being subversive at best and tongue-in-cheek at worst, highlighting only one thing: the continued hypocrisy of the organization.

PETA is full of contradictions. It seems as if they want to put Michael Vick in a gas chamber, but have folks like Pamela Anderson as a spokesperson. Now how exactly can you advocate for a “natural” lifestyle, like being a vegetarian, when you’re completely unnatural (hair, breasts, nails, etc.)? Don’t abuse animals but abuse women by making them sexual objects in Super Bowl ads?

PETA has great goals, which is why I never quite understood why they insist on undermining them with ridiculous and mean-spirited ad campaigns. This is an organization that takes itself very seriously, but does not take the treatment of humans seriously at all.

In its recent “Save the Whales” TV ad, an outline of an obese woman in a bikini is positioned next to the words “Lose the blubber: Go vegetarian.” Likening women to whales and trying to convey an important message at the expense of fat people. Classy. I guess whoever designed that ad never read Judy Blume’s classic, Blubber. If he or she did, they would know the damage that this kind of language causes.

A so-called high-brow organization continues to take the low road in an effort to get people energized around their message, which is … what exactly? The group’s president, Ingrid Newkirk, thinks that all actions are justified if it will highlight the “cause” of PETA. Fat people suck. Women are bitches and whores. Men are Neanderthals who can only receive messages if some young, hot, sexy girl is giving it to them. (more)

This article originally appeared in Creative Loafing, where Nsenga serves as cultural critic. She is also managing editor of TheLoop21.com and an Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Goucher College.

Dr. Regina Benjamin: Big Momma’s White House

Well it seems that the love affair with fat, black women is over. Dr. Regina Benjamin, who is slightly overweight, has come under fire for being rotund. Why? Because she’s up for the Surgeon General’s position and should offer a better visual representation.  Wow. After predecessors like Dr. C. Everett Koop, we want our 2nd African-American woman Surgeon General to look like Halle Berry. Awwwwwww. How cute? The fact that folks would rather focus on her one flaw (if indeed being slightly overweight is a flaw since the average American woman is a size 14) is quite tragic. You know you are truly qualified when people have to sink that low to find something “wrong” with a candidate who is so “right.” Double chin up Dr. Benjamin. You pretty much rock and anyone who doesn’t think so because you’re a little chubby, can kick rocks.