Keefa Lorraine Weatherspoon: 'The Urban Bush Doctor'
Founder of the SanKofa LIFE Campus and Water Station on Woodward Avenue, this alternative medicine guru wants to change Detroit from the inside, out
"Dr. Keefa" Weatherspoon glides around the room like she's walking on water, each step more graceful than the next. A well-known alternative medicine guru—locally known for her Live Well radio program and Spirit of Wellness TV show, but made rich and famous by her Water Station shop—Weatherspoon sees herself as a savior in her own right, offering Detroiters alternative medicine options.
In person, she is petite and courteous as she greets and welcomes visitors to the SanKofa LIFE Learning and Wellness Center.
The center aspires to be an oasis of wellness in an urban jungle. Yet its plain cinderblock façade seems like any other storefront on this stretch of Woodward Avenue, across from the Palmer Park Golf Course and not far from Dutch Girl Donuts. But before you can enter the wellness chamber, you must remove your shoes—and skepticism—at the door.
"We want you to leave out all those vibrations, which is all that stress," Weatherspoon explains. "Ground yourself. So that you can relax and heal."
Inside, there is almost a church-like stillness and calm. You are given slippers for comfort and offered a sample of alkaline water, which has a higher pH level than traditional tap or bottled water and, some whisper—including Weatherspoon—healing properties.
On this humid Tuesday morning, students for her weekly class at noon are already shuffling in. There are more students in the evening class, she says; "about 50 to 70 people." The 12-week course, titled Trilogy of LIFE, is $245 per person.
"I teach people whole personal wellness. I teach you to focus on rebuilding and repairing the body. Focus on healing yourself emotionally, so you're not carrying around all this anger that is making you sick."
There's too much anger in the world, she says.
"I think that there are parallel universes. I think in the midst of darkness, there is light. In the midst of hate, there's love. In the midst of chaos, there's order. In the midst of poverty, there is opulence," she says. "So I think that it's like a frequency you tune into. So yes, there is a lot of (anger), but you know when you come in here you don't feel any of that. And that's intentional."
To some, the class and her teachings might be considered too mystical to be "real" medicine. But for her devout students, it is worth every penny. They, just like the many listeners of her Live Well radio show on 99.9 FM or viewers of her Spirit of Wellness TV show on channel 20, believe Weatherspoon has the secrets to wellness. And each week, they eagerly wait for the next lesson from the master.
To her detractors, she says simply: "I want them to weigh for themselves if it's quackery. And if they think it is quackery, I don't need them to come here anyway."
Becoming 'Dr. Keefa' Lorraine Weatherspon
Weatherspoon was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 1977. Now at 62, she has been cancer free for more than 35 years. Since her diagnosis, she says she has made it her mission to serve other people on their individual journeys to wellness.
"Dr. Keefa," as she is known by peers and clients, is a Sukyo Mahikari (light transfer) practitioner and reiki master. She has degree from the Clayton College of Natural Health—a non-accredited, distance-learning college out of Birmingham, Alabama that is now closed.
She has fire walked with Tony Robbins, and sky-dived in the name of self-discovery. Some call her the "urban bush doctor," sitting on a holistic empire of wellness and water in Detroit.
But before any of that, she was Denise Lorraine—a girl with low self-esteem who graduated from Denby High School and found herself in a bad marriage.
"Denise held in there until 'Keefa' came along," says Weatherspoon, with a laugh. In reflection, she explains, she could see the cancer coming. "Having been in a relationship that was not only abusive physically, emotionally—but that was very promiscuous and sometimes on both sides. Before the divorce, (we were) separated half the time. Going from, 'Now, I am with my husband. Well, we aren't together now. I have another partner.' I can see how sexually I was also out of balance. So I can see that face of cancer as well."
Weatherspoon says she began to harbor resentment for her unhappiness, deep down. When she received her cancer diagnosis at 25—the same age as her mother, who lost her battle—she refused to undergo the procedures her mother did.
"I never did the hysterectomy. I never did the chemo. I never did the radiation. That's why I thought it was so important to understand sometimes, in our attempt to treat the symptoms, all we are doing is diminishing them, so they are more tolerable. But we still have to do the work to heal the body."
Months before her cancer diagnosis, her brother was killed.
"So I internalized a lot of traumatic stuff," Weatherspoon says. "But I was also told (that) if a woman takes time to heal after all that traumatic stuff, that the body will start to move toward a more balanced state we call 'human.'"
Surviving cancer is not a "one-time event," she says. It is a lifestyle change. "I've had to purposely create a lifestyle of positivity. Consciously taking care of myself. Making sure my elimination is proper, that my body stays clean and my intent stays pure. Spirit, mind and body—the whole person."
Weatherspoon began to study eastern medicine in the hopes that it would heal her cancer. Later, she shared this knowledge with others. She started with in-home presentations and worked with other vitamin and supplement companies that gave her the opportunity to connect with people.
"My commitment was: 'God, if you show me how to heal my life of cancer, I will spend whatever time I have left healing others and teaching others to heal themselves." And one of the building blocks of this commitment started with water.
Creating an empire out of alkaline water
Weatherspoon believes that cancer cannot live in a bloodstream with alkaline.
"When you go in the emergency room, even before the doctor can give you clear diagnoses, the first thing he has the nurse do is to start a saline IV of water. Saline is sodium. Sodium is an alkaline mineral. So what the doctor is doing is stabilizing the patient by hydrating them and making their blood alkaline, so some of the false symptoms of dehydration and acidity would disappear."
To her, alkaline water is the foundation of good health. That's why she opened the Water Station, located just a couple of doors down from her wellness center, in 2007. Weatherspoon regularly talks about the importance of holistic health at visits to schools, where she gives out free bottles of alkaline water to kids. The water is available at Detroit markets, such as Whole Foods and Metro Foodland, and the Water Station delivers water to customers who cannot make the drive.
On a regular day, there is a steady stream of customers coming out of the Water Station. Newfound customer William Elery now makes the trek from Imlay City to attend the Trilogy of LIFE class.
"I came down on that first Tuesday after Labor Day, and I've been coming ever since," says Elery. "It's a growing experience. And you get a little bit each time, and it just adds to my wealth of knowledge."
In her quest to spread this knowledge, Weatherspoon envisions a village—complete with an urban organic farm, a bathhouse, spa and tearoom.
"Between Woodward and Charleston, there are 396 lots. Trying to get these three blocks is the plan," she says. "That's our vision. It's a long-term vision, but it's a worthy one. And it will be the only thing of its kind in Detroit. Probably the metro area."
Part one of that vision of expansion will be Healthy Soul, a vegan café that's slated to open later this summer.
For Weatherspoon, it's a natural extension of her brand and mission.
"People say, 'You're in the water business.' I say, 'No, we're not in the water business. We are in the service business."