Remembering an African Herbalist
He was more like George Washington Carver than anyone else. He absolutely, totally, undeniably loved plants — real, Mother Nature-created plants.
“The blue vervain is a plant that digests potassium phosphate. And she grows right here in the village, and she’s a pretty plant. If you want your nerves to be treated properly, just think about the blue vervain, the root and the flower,” Dr. Sebi said.
And he felt no shame being a descendant of that region of the world called Africa. He appealed to it and the “cosmic arrangement of life” for tips on how to be an effective alkaline herbal specialist. These are the reasons why I miss Dr. Sebi. This month, August 2021, marks the fifth anniversary of his transition.
Occasionally, when Sebi was alive, well, and retired in Honduras, rumors about his death would spread like California wildfires among his supporters. I felt the heat from some of the embers one morning in 2015, when I received a call from Sebi’s former assistant, Annette Thomas. I assured her everything was fine — I suppressed all other thoughts — and to prove it, I volunteered to drive to his office on La Cienega Avenue in Los Angeles, to get confirmation from his staff. About five minutes into the trip, Annette called me back to say a friend had heard from Sebi. Another rumor quashed. And just as I dismissed news of his death then, I did it again on August 6, 2016, when friends and relatives offered me condolences in text messages for the passing of my friend Dr. Sebi.
“This is nothing new. It’s not true,” I replied. But this time, I was wrong. "Look on Instagram," they said. Sebi’s twenty-one-year-old daughter, Saama, had announced his death there. She was posting from Honduras, where Sebi died.
A few days after the devastation hit me, I drove to Sebi’s office, placed my flowers among others under his portrait and sat for a while. I watched what I presumed were customers and mourners flow in and out of the building, the same building I entered for the first time in 2005.
What I gleaned from my relationship with Dr. Sebi is his courageous support for and homage to African resonance: his muse, his guide, his blueprint for existence, his culling from the past to drive his healing journey. And it seems that on the path, dembali is the lens through which he viewed the human experience. He coined the term to help fill a void not only in black communities — his message speaks volumes for all — but for communities where races and cultures intersect, commingle, and interrelate in matters of health, race, family, and culture. Yet he felt dembali helps black folks most, keeping us grounded, balanced, healthy, and true to Self in the intersection and in our relationship with others. Dembali reminds us to draw from ancestral examples of resiliency and appeals to the cosmos for direction in crossing over back to a state of ease. More often than not, Dr. Sebi said with a roar, “What one gorilla knows, all gorillas know.” And when he roared that message, I’m sure Earth nodded, smiled, and rumbled right along with him.