Alfredo Darrington Bowman, most commonly known as Dr. Sebi, was born on November 26th, 1933 in Ilanga, Honduras. Despite having never received any formal education whatsoever, Bowman rose to fame after declaring he had discovered the cure for all diseases, a claim he stood by until the day he died. This assertion, along with many others, earned Bowman a cult-like following over the years. One that ballooned after the untimely death of West Coast rapper, Nipsey Hussle. In an interview with iZm Radio, the late rapper expressed concerns that he might be targeted for his support of the controversial herbalist, requesting that fans “ride” for him should that ever occur. And as mourners struggled to process the gruesome slaying, his request appeared more prophetic than suggestive.
Just like that, the rapper’s death became equal parts conspiracy, equal parts condolences. Bowman’s claims severely lacked the hard evidence they needed to support such a correlation but that didn’t stop the masses from running with the theory. For many, the association took the sting off just enough. Gang-related deaths are tragic all around, but dying so that others can live, well that makes you a martyr, a Messiah even. But outside of the biblical portraits and the emotional pacification that came with rationalizing the misfortune, there was no real indication that such an association was warranted. What did we really know about “Dr. Sebi” and did his life’s work warrant the deflection that it caused?
“There were 2,781 cases that came before the supreme court and lost, I won. Not only did I prove scientifically but I had the diagnostic sheets and I still have them today.”
Of the many claims made by Bowman, the most well-known centers around a New York Supreme Court trial that catapulted the healer to celebrity status. In an interview with Rock Newman, Bowman spoke openly of his victory, boasting on the fearlessness with which he tackled the cynics while representing himself. And given that the prosecution set out to prove that Bowman not only lied about his expertise and the effectiveness of his products, but did so intentionally for financial gain, the outcome of the trial proved paramount to his reputation.
“The judge said that I had to bring one of every patient that I had cured and there was one that said others. The others was a man that came from Italy, he was paralyzed. I was supposed to take 9, I took 77.”
Despite Bowman’s rejection of western medicine, he fully embraced western courts. He knew that for many, the validation of a western institution would remove all skepticism of his self-taught botany. And so Bowman traveled the world, telling the story of his Supreme Court victory and the 77 witness trial that ensued under the watchful eye of the toughest court in the land. Professing that even the trial judge, “Anne Schneiderman”, was so moved by the compelling testimonies that she too became a client. Followers of Bowman felt that this win both endorsed him and endangered him, making him, and any who dared to align with his message, enemies of the state. The only problem with the tale of the great Supreme Court victory is that it never happened.
On February 9th, 1987, Bowman and his affiliate businesses faced off against the State of NY and then Attorney General, Robert Abrams. The courts alleged that Bowman was incapable of backing his medical claims due to insufficient research and testing as well as the fact that he never actually verified illnesses before treating them, a step he claimed to have no use for. Allegations of illegal and fraudulent practices, practicing medicine without a license and consumer fraud meant Bowman would have to prove that both he and his products were legitimate by a preponderance of the evidence. And while the tale of 77 witnesses sounds captivating, the actual trial proved to be far less eventful.
There were no witnesses, no triumphant grand stands, no “Anne Schneiderman’s” and certainly no victories to celebrate. Bowman requested to reach a resolution with the court to avoid the financial burden of additional petitioners and legal proceedings. He agreed to write retractions to all advertised claims of curing, treating and healing, refund all new and existing claimants and cease advertising, publicizing and distributing materials making these false claims. Following the loss, Bowman halted New York operations and relocated to the Los Angeles area, taking with him a distorted account of the Supreme Court proceedings in order to solidify his position in the global “Conscious Community”. This lie offered Bowman something that his honesty never could, and that something came with a hefty price tag.
At the root of Bowman’s million dollar empire was an herbal product marketed to the masses as an intracellular cleanse, a product said to rid the body of disease at the cellular level and restore the body to its’ original alkaline state. Bowman taught that all illness was brought about through the consumption of unnatural foods. He believed that the human body was electrical in nature and therefore could only absorb foods of the same electrical composition, a process he mislabeled as Chemical Affinity. And according to Bowman, when chemical affinity was interrupted, the body would become acidic and begin the production of mucus, the underlying culprit of all disease. Bowman credited his herbal compounds with healing people of AIDS, Herpes, Sickle Cell, Lupus, Cancer, and countless other incurable diseases, a tough sell if not for the validation of a U.S. Supreme Court. And upon closer review of the science behind Bowman’s claims, the sell becomes an even tougher one to make.
For starters, the human body produces 1-1.5L of mucus a day, making it virtually impossible to get rid of once and for all. Mucus membranes exist all throughout the body and without these protective linings we’d find it difficult to complete even the most basic bodily tasks, like blinking, swallowing, and having sex. Mucus keeps organs from drying out and acts as a barrier for foreign substances, even indicating when the body is fighting infection. Granted, the overproduction of mucus can cause discomfort and obstruction, sometimes resulting in serious ailment or sickness, but in appropriate quantities mucus is perfectly healthy. A quick encyclopedia search debunks most of Bowman’s theories with globally substantiated evidence. Meaning the lie afforded him the credibility that his products alone could not. And if his phantom Supreme Court victory was his wild card, his trump card centered on the element of celebrity. Michael Jackson, Steven Seagal and Teddy Pendegrass were just a few of the big names Bowman regularly dropped. Each, according to him, having a different collection of ailments and needing various forms of treatment, none too personal or too private for Bowman to share with the world.
“I told Mr. Teddy Pendagrass you paid the doctors $275,000 and they have you paralyzed. Tell you what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna charge you half that price but when I get to your waistline, got everything is moving except your leg, you’re gonna give me half my money. He said ‘alright’.”
In the case of the late Michael Jackson, Bowman claimed to have healed the singer of opioid addiction, a disease he suffered from until his death. And then there was a young man named “Omar”, who he alleged to be Jackson’s eldest and only biological son. In a seminar in Nassau, Bahamas, Bowman explained how he provided “Omar” with one of his strongest herbal compounds, causing him to sneeze 52 times, expelling a brain tumor through his nostril. Then there was a wheelchair-bound woman by the name of “Helga” who Bowman alleged to be the mother of Jackson’s son. Within days of receiving the herbal compound, “Helga” began to walk for the first time in 5 years, reporting that her monthly cycle had also returned. Finally, there was Jackson’s alleged secretary, “Grace Romanda”, a woman plagued by Lupus for 9 years who would also report complete healing after just 2 weeks of treatment. Bowman would later sue Jackson’s estate for non-payment, claiming he only received $10,000 on a $390,000 bill. Jackson’s estate has vehemently denied these claims, stating that Bowman never treated the singer for addiction and claiming no knowledge of the additional parties. Still, Bowman drew attention from every corner of the globe, boosted by rumored connections to Hollywood elites like Eddie Murphy and John Travolta. But his most publicized celebrity client was Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes.
“This young lady came to me because she needed help, right, her eyes were blinking very fast and she had her little thing that she was suffering with and she wanna get rid of. And she got rid of them. It was 4oclock in the morning, she’s in a 21 days fast. No, 42 days fast. Lisa came in the hut where I was living with these 2 cups of sea moss, I had her drinking sea moss. She said ‘You know you’ve helped me but you need healing’ and she was right… At the time I was involved with 3 different wives, I had 3 wives then, (names retracted). And my life was not as stable because I had other women pregnant, ya know, a young girl 19 years old were pregnant outside of those 3 wives… so Lisa said to me that I needed help and you know, I didn’t know how much help I needed until Lisa told me that morning.”
We all know why Lopes traveled to Honduras. She too was convinced that there was a man who truly had the ability to heal those in need and she believed that she was in need. But based on Bowman’s account, it appears she became less enchanted once she reached the village and discovered Bowman was living a life contradictory to the one he preached. Bowman acknowledged that Lopes’ observation was accurate but went on to impregnate a 22 year old Honduran woman and a 20 year old Honduran woman, among others. What exactly prompted Lopez to confront Bowman, we’ll never know, but we do know that what lured her to Honduras in the first place may not have been the reality she met. Bowman sold us all the same dream, an answer to our suffrage at the fingertips of an enlightened Black man, a knowledgeable elder in the community, healing the people with nature’s antidotes and teaching them the righteous way to live. We ignored all the signs indicating that Bowman was none of these things, a figment of our thirst for Messiah in man form. And nowhere did his predatory practices prove powerless but the last place he likely expected, Africa.
“But When I look at it carefully, the African were right to kick me out. They are right to reject me, every African country. They are right because the African people are totally unaware that what they’re eating is undermining their struggle, undermining their existence. Africa is eating starch and blood. Starch and blood. Now, let us take that to the laboratory and see if there’s food there, no, there’s no food.”
Bowman openly glorified the days when Africans walked the earth naked, living in the jungles and swinging from trees. Despite his proclamation of knowledge of the native African and his or her natural state, he appeared very ignorant of life on the actual continent, both past and present. So much so that he often spoke of Africa in a way that appeared to be heavily influenced by Western media, referring to the diverse continent as though it were one big primitive jungle, a concept he referred to as “Mama in the Jungle“. And this odd perception of Africa likely contributed to his inability to convince native Africans that he was more knowledgeable of the “African diet” than they were. He found push back to his electrical food theory, preaching that the modern African diet consisted only of “blood and starch” (a gross misstatement of actual fact), and that those foods were resulting in chronic illness. In countries plagued by the AIDS virus, Bowman was labeled a conman out to prey on the sick. It seemed unimaginable that anyone who believed sperm was naturally green and women should menstruate once every 4 years for 10 minutes at a time could offer any insight on reproductive health, let alone people suffering from the lifelong effects of incurable sexually transmitted infections. His reputation as a snake oil salesman grew, resulting in his ejection from South Africa and Zimbabwe, as well as the islands of Dominica and St. Croix. Bowman could fool some of the people, some of the time, but not all of them. And somehow he still fooled us.
Alfredo “Dr Sebi” Bowman was either a complete fool or a complete fraud, but he was far from a healer. He routinely used the occurrence of systemic racism to play off the guilt of Black skeptics, implying that a white man with the same pseudo science would be welcomed with open arms. He took advantage of the collective insecurities of the Black race, arguing that it wasn’t his product that was ineffective, it was Black peoples lack of faith in other Black people. He fanned the separation between working class and wealthy Black people, implying that Black Hollywood had rejected him because they didn’t want to see Black people healthy and not because his pseudo science had been debunked all over the globe. And somehow with all of his know how, he didn’t know that viruses could be seen under a microscope, thus disproving his claim that they didn’t exist. Nor did he know that the Peppermint plant had nothing to do with peppermint candy, a plant he labeled unnatural and deadly due to its’ sugar content. And he didn’t know that it was impossible to alter the ph level of the human body simply because our stomachs acid maintain a ph level of 1.5 to facilitate digestion. Plainly put, everything we eat becomes acidic once it enters the stomach. Bowman knew a lot to know so little, but his ignorance proved lucrative either way. Our ignorance, on the other hand, not so much.
We’ve paid tremendously, with our wallets, with our health, with our time, and some of us with our lives, all in pursuit of a lie we wanted to be the truth. When the truth was that we elevated Bowman to a level of influence he didn’t deserve, making him out to be some philosophical rarity when he wasn’t rare at all. Licensed physician and ordained minister, Christine Daniel, made national headlines when it was discovered that her herbal miracle cancer cure was nothing more than blended vitamins, sun tan lotion, beef extract and plant material. Dr. Ken Crawford, a retired doctor living in Lawrence, KS, made waves after being accused of scamming cancer patients out of tens of thousands of dollars, having convinced them that his herbal cocktail helped destroy cancer cells. Bowman was one of many, another conman with a lucky hand. A man lucky enough to live to see 82 despite denying others the same luxury. We wanted him to be something that we could’ve been for ourselves and he made us pay for our lethargy. We didn’t need a “Dr. Sebi” to tell us to eat our fruits and veggies and drink water, the earth has literally been throwing these things at us since the beginning of time, was that not notice enough? Until we stop dumping the responsibility of our salvation off on other people, we’ll fall prey to every wise-sounding man in a cloak. At what point do we decide it’s time to save ourselves?