We're Saving Our Own Lives

Black activists will confront killer diseases at upcoming AIDS forum in Harlem

Black alternative health-care activists will gather this weekend in Harlem for a contentious conference on AIDS and other infectious diseases that is bound to exacerbate the medical and racial debate in the African American community.

Some of the participants will challenge basic assumptions about the disease, which have been propagated by Western medicine. Among them:

That HIV causes AIDS.

That the disease can be transmitted through sexual intercourse.

That the success of protease inhibitors should convince blacks not to experiment with alternative treatments.

That vaccines are not dangerous.

That advocates of naturopathy and other holistic treatments are conspiracy theorists peddling death to African Americans.

In addition, some activists will put forth theories that AIDS is an ethnic weapon created by the government to "kill most black people."

But even black AIDS specialists have reacted with curiosity and skepticism about the conference.

"Most of them [the activists] simply have a lack of information in the field of diseases," contends Dr. Barbara Justice, a prominent Harlem physician who was linked to a 1991 scandal involving the trafficking of HIV- infected patients to Kenya for treatment with Kemron, a low-dosage alpha interferon. Justice has clashed with activists in recent years over systems for testing experimental AIDS and cancer drugs on African Americans.

Among her unrelenting critics is Brother Phillip Valentine, a self-described "nature-healing" activist who was one of the first to warn blacks about the "Kemron cartel's attempt to use them as guinea pigs" in the fight against AIDS.

Valentine, founder of the Self-Healing Education Temple­Institute for Self-Mastery, a popular underground think tank that has investigated the Kemron cartel, is one of the activists drafted by the Scholars Committee of Reverend Al Sharpton's National Action Network, organizers of the conference, to help mobilize people of color in the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered communities around the issue of AIDS.

The event, called the Harlem AIDS Forum, will begin at noon on Saturday, December 19, at the Network's headquarters at 1941 Madison Avenue.

In recent weeks, Valentine, whose lectures are suffused with metaphysics, African ancestral lore, as well as "concrete scientific evidence" obtained from controversial white scholars, has been practically waging war against the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control. Recently, the CDC reported that although blacks make up 13 percent of the population, 50 percent of the AIDS cases are black— and that figure is projected to jump to 60 percent by 2005.

"The only myths about AIDS circulating in the black community are those purposely put there by the propaganda machinery of the Centers for Disease Control and the pharmaceutical companies," claims Valentine, who also incorporates clinical hypnotherapy in his treatment of infectious diseases. "All of these are myths that are propagated and pushed into the black community. Those in the activist community are now trying to show people how these myths arise."

Some of the activists scheduled to speak at the Harlem AIDS Forum include: Keidi Obi Awadu, also known as "the Conscious Rasta"; Bishop Shamma Womack, founder of the Christian Bible Center Family Church; Joanne Walker, founder of the Ultimate Health Empowerment program; Lynn Gannett, a former AZT researcher and whistleblower; Dr. Michael Heal, president of Health Education AIDS Liaison (HEAL); and Dr. Jack Felder, a self-published genetic engineer and former U.S. Army germ-warfare specialist.

The Voicehas also confirmed the participation of Debra Fraser Howz, executive director and CEO of the widely respected National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, a group of New York professionals and religious leaders.

The forum is partly a show of defiance by the activists, who have charged that their white critics harbor a racially based distrust of those who advocate a system of treatment that avoids drugs and surgery. These critics, the activists charge, blame them for selling false hope to black AIDS sufferers and cancer victims.

Some, like Phillip Valentine, plan to use the recent death of Kwame Ture as an example of why blacks should not pin their hopes entirely on Western medicine.

Ture, who gained fame as Stokely Carmichael in the 1960s when he electrified America and the world with his cry of "Black Power," died November 15 of prostate cancer at age 57 in Guinea, West Africa, his adopted homeland. Ten days before he died, Ture maintained that "U.S. imperialism" may have succeeded in killing him with an "FBI-induced cancer." That allegation set off a flurry of rumors among his comrades and former caretakers in the United States, who fought desperately to liberate Ture from his medical doctors in his final days.

Some now argue that Ture might have won his battle had he not been a victim of white medicine. Valentine broke his silence about a behind-the-scenes tug of war between naturopathic advocates and physicians over Ture's treatment.

"We believe that my beloved brother, Kwame Ture, would have stayed with us if, from the beginning, he had been convinced by those closest to him to adopt and follow the naturopathic, self-healing modalities of our ancestors," Valentine declares. "I was sitting there right next to him when he was being fed disease-proliferating food; he sat next to me and took his chemotherapy pills. I tried to save Kwame Ture's life. I've dealt with many people with the same condition and they have pulled through."

Valentine's remarks irritate Dr. Justice, who was one of Ture's doctors. "Kwame received excellent care," she told the Voice. "We went all over the world; we consulted the leading herbal doctor in Cuba and others in Mexico."

Valentine fears that an entire generation of civil rights activists may be in mortal danger if they fall victim to degenerative diseases and reject his advice to heal naturally.

"Far too many of our holy men and women— our precious teachers and elders— are leaving us prematurely because in their time of greatest need they were forced to rely on the poison-promoting protocols and life-depleting methodologies of Western medicine," he says.

Phillip Valentine, a Trinidad-born naturopath, rose to prominence in Brooklyn's black activist community in 1990 as host of "The Gathering of the Masters," a mind-blowing all-night lecture series in which activists advised participants how to heal themselves through "juice feasting," fasting, and colonic irrigation. The Masters also expounded on urban legends, rebutted gossip, and tested theories on political controversies. The Gathering ended last year shortly before Valentine left Brooklyn.

In 1990, when AIDS began to devastate the inner cities, Valentine says he, K.V. McGhee of the Tree of Life, and John Harris, founder of Natural Way Communications, were approached by someone who was trying to market an inexpensive cure for AIDS.

"We were given a prospectus on interferon therapy with different names under which it would be sold," recalls Valentine. "We were also given a breakdown of the number of people they expected to get this disease and the amount of money we would make if we invested $1000. I was just blown away."

About six months later, the government of Kenya announced that it had found a cure for AIDS, and would market it as Kemron. Valentine was more amused than impressed.

"Everybody in Africa who was dying at the time was dying from one actual disease, and that was malnutrition," he scoffs. "The very symptoms of malnutrition emulated the symptoms of AIDS."

In Harlem, the weekly Amsterdam News ran front-page stories alleging that Kemron was being ignored as a possible cure because it posed competition for expensive AIDS medications offered by the white medical establishment. Dr. Barbara Justice, along with talk show host Gary Byrd, touted Kemron on black-owned radio station WLIB.

Valentine convened a Gathering of the Masters, at which the Kemron cartel was denounced for using the grassroots community to promote the drug.

"I was beating the drum in black neighborhoods, telling them I had information from the gay community, which already had been bombarded with interferon and was saying that it didn't work," recalls Valentine. He delivered a lecture at the time entitled "AIDS, the Biggest Hoax of the Century."

Valentine's attack on Kemron and the subsequent death of Howard Beach racial beating victim Cedric Sandiford— who had AIDS and allegedly was abandoned at a Kemron clinic in Kenya— generated widespread anger toward Dr. Justice and the Kemron cartel.

Justice told the Voice that although the National Institutes of Health has terminated her trials with Kemron, she still sees HIV-infected patients whom she treats with a "different regimen."

One of the most controversial lectures at the AIDS Forum will be delivered by Curtis Cost, a key organizer. Cost has attracted a huge following since the 1991 publication of his book Vaccines Are Dangerous: A Warning to the Black Community.

"Millions of our people are dying now and many millions more are expected to die soon," Cost wrote. "It is absolutely essential that we stop passively accepting data from the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, and other such groups, and begin our own independent analysis into the crisis. We must design our own strategies and solutions. We must determine for ourselves the degree to which vaccines have been and probably still are being used to infect our people with the AIDS virus. This is the only way that we will get to the truth. This is the only way that we will survive."

Research: W. Michelle Beckles

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