Prelude to Healing
Dr. Sebi’s lecture circuit, in full swing in the early 1980s, included stops in several mid-Atlantic urban cities. I sat in on one of his lectures when he stopped in Washington, D.C., sometime around 1982 or ’83. With an instructor’s stance right at the beginning he announced, “The herbs are for the healing of the nation.”
That evening he stood slender and statuesque at the Community Warehouse, a food co-op and lecture space in Northeast Washington. He looked more like a Maasai tribesman than a Honduran in Central America. He was born there in 1933 in the mountainous and tropical village of Ilanga, Honduras. By the time he reached Washington, D.C., he had already lived and worked in the United States for over thirty years, fathered seven children, and with dedicated patronage from niche followers, used his herbal compounds to cure clients suffering from all manner of disease, including cancer, diabetes, lupus, and sickle cell anemia.
I didn’t know any of this or his birth name, Alfredo Bowman, when I saw him that first time. My reason for going to hear his lecture was twofold: I was in the early stages of endometriosis and felt uneasy about having the recommended laparoscopy. My gynecologist forecasted an incision below my navel and a small fiber optic telescope inserted in that incision browsing my uterus to locate the problem. I was pretty apprehensive about this surgical and minimally invasive procedure. So John Davies, a vegetarian colleague of mine at WHUR-FM, suggested that I not only consult Dr. Sebi (self-moniker), but share his advice in a radio show about natural healing.
The longer I listened to Dr. Sebi that night, listened to him clear up misperceptions, life-threatening misperceptions, people have accepted about food and diseases for generations, I realized John turned me on to a good idea. It was the first time I had ever heard someone get to the root of bad health.
Dr. Sebi’s Spanish accent didn’t prevent him from speaking clear and robust English. His delivery and determined persona reminded me of the late stage and film actor Yul Brynner, when he played the willful King of Siam in the film The King and I.
Along with the history of food, Dr. Sebi stood before us and touted the supremacy of a vegetarian’s life, but cautioned his audience that what appears to be and what has been traditionally called nutritious vegetables, are acid-based stimulants. Now, if there’s any reaction that has influenced Dr. Sebi’s relationship with his public over the past thirty years, it is without a doubt the rejection of his comments about what is food and what is not, especially carrots and garlic.
“They’re hybrids. Both will undermine your immune system,” he claimed and has claimed for years.
The carrot, a hybrid? That garden variety made orange by Dutch geneticists in the 17th century, and the one we eat today, yes. The first carrot, a wild carrot, no.
Wild carrots now and over 2,000 years ago are white, purple, and yellow. They were used by ancient Greeks and Romans for medicinal purposes according to the California Foundation for Agriculture. They have a woody texture and bitter taste. But selective breeding down through the years changed all that. Plant geneticists inserted large amounts of beta-carotene in the parent plant, giving wild carrots a sweet taste and the familiar orange color.
It is this breeding, this change in the composition of a natural plant into something other than its natural state that drives Dr. Sebi’s rejection of hybrids, especially hybrids passed onto human diets.
His words pulsated throughout the room. No microphone or bull horn needed for the room full of Black Americans from varied lifestyles. Black Americans, it still has a resounding ring to it. By 1982, we had shed the fight word “black” of the 1950s and early 60s and embraced “Black American,” a holdover from James Brown’s soulful admonition and hit R&B record, "Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud."
Women at Dr. Sebi’s presentation wore hairstyles reflecting the pride: afros, precise lines of cornrows, while others wore trendy sculptured braids. A few had perms. Businessmen and college students sat in, with smells of frankincense and myrrh oil spreading around all of us.
He scanned a sea of interested alert faces and spoke to us as if his passion for herbs and his knowledge of natural foods equaled ours, as if we were his partner on the journey to right health and right eating. But when he uttered the words acid and alkaline food, we responded with blank stares. Acid? Was he speaking of carbonated sodas? Alkaline? The same stares continued when he mentioned pH. It was my first time hearing it.