Greetings CREAD family!
I wonder how many of us think about who our “family doctor” was. I don’t mean the one you have to give your insurance card to, I mean that family member who knew all the remedies. Was it one of your parents or your grandmother? Was it your favorite auntie? Or maybe an older cousin who everybody would call when they got sick? If you have roots in the Caribbean, or the South or maybe you were born in the motherland then you know something about those nasty tasting teas or other concoctions that you’d be forced to take.
Those homegrown remedies and the folks in our families that remember them are an important part of our heritage of natural healing. That is why during HHM, we want to honor our ancestor, Dr. Sebi, a truly gifted healer and sage.
I can’t remember when exactly I first learned about Dr. Sebi; it might have been during one of my rides down the rabbit hole that is Youtube. There I found countless videos of people testifying about how he helped to cure them and the benefits of following his nutritional guidelines.
Dr. Sebi (born Alfredo Bowman) “was a pathologist, herbalist, biochemist, and naturalist.” Through his study of herbs in North America, Central and South America, Africa, and the Caribbean, he was able to develop a unique approach to healing the human body. Like many healers throughout the diaspora, Sebi began his education about herbs and their medicinal properties from his grandmother, “Mama Hay” in his native village of Ilanga in Honduras. This early experience would set the foundation for him, although he suffered from various diseases at one point in his life. After working with a Mexican herbalist, he began to put this knowledge into practice.
Caption: Poster promoting Dr. Sebi’s healing center in La Cieba, Honduras.
Dr. Sebi established a healing center in his homeland of Honduras, which is known for its biodiversity because of the many plant and animal species found there. Like other countries in Central America, Honduras has vast biological resources and it hosts more than 6,000 species of vascular plants, which made an ideal setting for Sebi to expand his work and impact on people’s health and wellness.
Sebi used his own knowledge about plants and sought solutions outside of the widely accepted western traditions of medicine. He chose to look at health and healing from a perspective that honored his culture and identity. Most importantly, Dr. Sebi helped people find solutions to important problems they faced. His experience and example is worth sharing with our students because it shows that there are many ways to be successful and help others.
Just a month before the one-year anniversary of his death, (last year) I was thinking about Dr. Sebi and his wonderful capacity to cure diseases as serious as AIDS, asthma and diabetes. At the time I was reading, Black Gods: Orisa Studies in the New World by Gary Edwards and John Mason. (Sidenote: If you have any desire to understand the Yoruba deities, this is a must read.) When I read about the deity of Osanyin, I began to make correlations. I saw the spirit of Sebi in the characteristics of this orisha: “He controls all the curative and poisonous herbs and plants… He is the idea of the scientist looking for a cure for disease. He is the pioneer venturing into the unknown fields of medicinal science.” (page 37)
Caption: Osanyin, the Orisha of the forest, herbs and medicinal healing.
For many, Dr. Sebi represented a voice of wisdom and resistance against the western systems of healthcare. He gained more prominence in his work with celebrities like Eddie Murphy, John Travolta, Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes, Erykah Badu and others despite detractors who doubted his claims of healing.
Caption: Dr. Sebi with Erykah Badu (l) and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes (r).
Dr. Sebi transitioned on August 6, 2016 at the age of 82, and his death was deemed mysterious because he was in the custody of the Honduran police at the time. The controversy that surrounded Sebi during his life speaks to his power as a natural healer. His life is a lesson in the importance of believing in our own abilities and gifts. Dr. Sebi never held any medical degrees but this did not diminish his impact on people’s lives.
To honor an ancestor means that we find ways to continue learning from their example and pass their wisdom onto new generations. We can find ways to share Dr. Sebi’s legacy with our students. Here are some ideas you can implement in your classrooms:
- Create a unit around food science food that allows students to understand the chemistry behind food and its production. Or, create a unit about food justice and have students study the relationship between socioeconomic status and access to quality food. With either of these units you want to explore the topic of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
- Introduce your students to herbs or other plants with healing properties. You can even make an in-class herb garden that students are responsible to care for.
- If you teach history you can have students study food from a historical perspective and even examine foodways or the ways that cuisines/food traditions develop geographically.
As educators we must choose to see the world and our students through a different lens; a lens that acknowledges different paths in life. As we honor our ancestor, Dr. Sebi, let us encourage our youth to believe in their own gifts and talents. First, we must recognize that our students come to us with a wealth of knowledge from their own cultural experiences. Second, we can make our classrooms into spaces where multiple perspectives are welcomed and the process of discovery is highly valued.
Lastly, we can model for our students the importance of honoring all of who we are as part of the diasporic family.
Peace and love, good people!
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