Deconstructing Dr. Sebi
If a picture is worth a thousand words, there’s a takeaway with this book cover. A pensive Dr. Sebi. A teaching Dr. Sebi. A Dr. Sebi who said to me a few years back, and the right bottom photo seems to suggest, “My relationship with people, whether male or female, I’m not going to have a relationship with you unless that relationship is based on love and affection.” And that includes children, his most cherished comrades—I was surprised to learn—who watched his carefree persona and antics that the pursuit of understanding and health ignited. “It has me laughing now and being happy, doing all kinds of acrobatic stupidness. That’s why the children come around here and they don’t want to leave, because they found a grownup that is as stupid as they are. And they enjoy that, and I enjoy it too because they accept me as their peer.” Needless to say, the beam in his eyes confirmed that shared love and affection, something he’s more likely to exhibit in private moments.
Dr. Sebi posed for the cover’s photos in 2014 in his Los Angeles office. They capture a patient man, an accommodating man, a man perhaps less known for his childlike awe and love of life.
His hard-lined exterior expressed in public talks—and even in one of the photos on the book cover—masks that deep-rooted love, and not exclusively love for black people or black culture. You might know from reading other books about his merchant seaman days, Dr. Sebi traveled the world on cargo and passenger boats—the sea and a multicultural mix of people his neighbors. That environment helped shape his love and respect for all cultures and ways of life, and it certainly molded his articulate, open-minded and intelligent worldview. But long before those trips, the love trait had already set in. His grandmother, Mama Hay, saw to that. “I was blessed to have Mama Hay,who demanded nothing but integrity of me at all times,” Dr. Sebi shared at his home in Honduras. “She was uncompromising. She didn’t care how big or how small you were. In her eyes you were the same.” The top right photo on the cover hints at a sublime reflection of Mama Hay.
But what of the other photos? Do they help deconstruct Dr. Sebi and, like other book covers, tell a story before any page is turned? Today’s covers are vivid, art-filled, sensory, far more than covers created a couple of centuries ago, when the only thing that enticed a read of a story was the book title or author’s name. Less color and flash than twenty-first century covers, Dr. Sebi Speaks of Dembali’s billboards a double agent: a poised confident thinker, comfortable in the presence of others, and then, in a plot twist, a superhero driven to save the world from itself.
In her article for Publishers Weekly, “Judging a Book by Its Cover,” author Terry Newman wrote, “I can’t say that all books would benefit from pictures, but a book’s cover is the first engagement many have with the author, and what’s on that cover is crucial. It needs to communicate what’s inside.”
The story that lies in the cover of Dr. Sebi Speaks of Dembali is a journey to the gateway of its multilayered main character. “Why all the emoting when he speaks?” one could ask when taking a quizzical look at the sedate, unassuming photos at the top of the cover. On the other hand, when he drives his point home, as he does in the bottom photos, one wonders, “What does he offer that resonates with me? Should I open the book?”
Read on for the answers. Each photo on the cover is matched with quotes from Dr. Sebi Speaks of Dembali. At the end, decide if the pairings offer value and wisdom and a new interpretation of this gentle giant.
“As I look at this arrangement of life, I find myself being very extremely careful, careful because I have not ever or do I remember wanting to be anything in my life. I want to be me. In the me, in the wanting to be me, I find that a whole lot of things came out of that, such as the healer.”
“Unlike other therapies, the African Bio Mineral Balance specifically benefits the nutritional needs of the African gene structure. But the beauty of the African Bio Mineral Balance is, because of its highly electrical nature, it has ample capacity to accommodate the nutritional needs of the entire human species. Over the years, we have treated people from all walks of life. In our early years, the bulk of our clientele were Mexican and Caucasian.”
“You listen, Beverly. You listen. How did I do my first consultation? I wasn’t trained. I let the patient talk.”
“Right. So, you just recommended things for the patient to take?”
“No. I already knew what to recommend because I make one treatment. I don’t make treatment special for AIDS or diabetes. It’s the same treatment.”
“Just one thing.”
“It’s one thing. It’s one disease. So, I didn’t have to go through psychoanalyzing anyone. No. People came here that were schizophrenic. People came here with delirium tremors. People came here that were paranoid. And people came here with Parkinson’s, and they all left cured. Well, how did that happen? How did it happen? The African Bio Mineral Electric Cell food."
“I’ve had the negative thrown to me by some of them because they were negative. But I’ve had beautiful things thrown to me because they were beautiful. Just like the old man in the village. The old man is living on the edges of the village. And the traveler came to the village and asked the old man,
‘Old Man! What kind of people live here?’
‘The village I just left, they are cutthroats!’
The old man said, ‘The same kind of people live here.’
So he turned back. Another traveler next month came.
‘Old man, what kind of people live here?’
The old man said, ‘Why?’
‘Because the village I just left? They beautiful. They nice.’
He said, ‘The same kind of people live here.’
“I used to get angry. I used to go on stage in D.C. You don’t want to see my lectures in D.C. They were volatile! They were explosive. ‘Dr. Sebi, you said we shouldn’t drink carrot juice!’ I would go off on you. I would go off on you. I would practically insult you. I may cuss you out. Why would I do that? I used to wonder why was I so volatile against the people that’s in front of me. Why? Because what one gorilla knows, all gorillas know. So I want to know how come I know this and you don’t. I didn’t like that. I felt insecure. I felt very insecure. I used to get angry at you when you didn’t know. They interpret it like I was angry. No, I was very much disturbed because you didn’t know, and you are my sister and my brother. The more of us that knows, the safer it is for all of us.”