Dr. Rashad Richey is President of Rolling Out, and nationally known for his a media broadcasting and written journalism. Richey recently interviewed Mr. Gerry Powell from Rythmia Life Advancement Center in Guanacaste, Costa Rica about claims of racial bias connected to reporting about his establishment. This is the first part of a four-part article series. The first story is a Q&A with Richey, which will be followed by 3 additional articles written by multiple members of Rolling Out’s investigative journalism team. Rolling Out reached out to all individuals connected to this series, some chose not to respond.
Gerry Powell is CEO of Rythmia Life Advancement Center in Costa Rica. Many know Gerry as a conscious entrepreneur who’s involved in a unique business. This first article will include statements from Iyanla VanZant, Rev. Michael Bernard Beckwith, Martin Luther King III, and Dr. Kenneth Harris.
Dr. Rashad Richey (Interviewer): The first time we tried to do this interview, you declined. What made you change your mind?
Gerry Powell: It has been our policy to stay away from any type of commentary that could hurt a third party in any way. It’s simply not our way of doing things. But in this particular case, we believe there is such racial injustice going on that this should at least be brought to the attention of the public. Further, we have been sued by someone who we believe is acting in concert with a reporter. This person is the driving force behind this story. Because we are in the midst of bringing actions against parties in the United States and Costa Rica, we cannot use their names until the suits get filed. To my understanding the suits can not be filed until the reporters story is published. Can I count on you not to disclose their names until they are filed?
Interviewer: If you’re saying we can make them public upon the filing, then yes, I agree. Please explain what is “Rythmia”.
Gerry: Rythmia is a life advancement center that uses a unique approach to healing that employs Ayahuasca (a sacred plant medicine), meditation, breathwork, metaphysical teachings, guest speakers, yoga and super clean organic food as medicine.
Interviewer: I’m a novice so forgive me if this next question seems offensive. I see that you track something called a miracle rate? The term “miracle rate” sounds strange to me. Can you explain it?
Gerry: At the end of everyone’s stay, they’re given the opportunity to participate in a survey. One of the survey questions is, “Did you receive a life-changing miracle during your stay?” To date, 97.23% of respondents claim yes. That’s 972 out of every 1,000. By the way, we’ve had over 11,000 guests through the door as of this interview.
Interviewer: Can you elaborate on the miracles visitors report receiving?
Gerry: The majority of the time, it’s something called a soul merger which is a very ancient event. It basically reunites these people with their souls, and the outcome of this reunion is that they have more clarity in their lives. They feel much more centered and less irritable. That’s the majority of the time; the remainder of the time, they claim amazing health benefits. The likes of which I shouldn’t report because it sounds too wild and because they are self-reported, these health-related miracles have not been double-blind studied. But I believe in them to the core.
Interviewer: Tell us about your work in minority communities and why you decided to focus your attention there.
Gerry: A big part of my healing journey was the result of the relationship that I had with a certain spiritual center and its director in Los Angeles. The center’s name is Agape, and its director is Rev. Michael Bernard Beckwith. When I met Michael, I was in rough shape, and he really helped me and was actually one of the catalysts that led me to plant medicine. Once I got it together, I decided that I wanted to do something with Rev. Beckwith and Dr. Jeff McNary, who was also instrumental in my own personal development.
Interviewer: How is Rythmia as a company structured as it relates to minority groups?
Gerry: From a company standpoint, our Board of Directors is 42.86% minority and includes Martin Luther King III (Dr. King’s son and namesake), Rev. Michael Bernard Beckwith and Toni Ko (Entrepreneur). Our shareholders are 40% Black or minorities, and our management team is 40% LGBTQ. We are a proverbial rainbow of diversity.
Interviewer: As with all businesses, there’s a combination of successes and setbacks… what have been some of the successes and setbacks at Rythmia?
Gerry: Generally speaking, most people really want to help, and most people are very open to making inroads with plant medicine in the Black and minority communities, so I would consider that a success. What motivated me to focus on these communities was my experience with Agape. I saw plant medicine as something that could greatly benefit the Black community but had no way of gaining acceptance without the help of some big names from that community. Hence, our initial association with Rev. Michael Bernard Beckwith.
Interviewer: Rev. Beckwith is a strong ally… were their any misfires he helped Rythmia navigate through?
Gerry: Initially, yes, it’s such a strange world, and I’m getting to understand what racism looks like firsthand. Initially, I had no idea that these things occurred. But, when we made our alliance with Michael, he hosted a couple of retreats that were immediately fully booked with Black and minority groups. At that time, some of our shamans came to us protesting that they did not want to serve medicine to large groups of Black people. Their thoughts behind it were that these people could not handle plant medicine because of their historical trauma. At least that’s the excuse they gave us. We were shocked and appalled. I couldn’t believe that somebody would actually say that out loud in this day and age. Michael was super upset, as were we. Fortunately, within a few weeks, those shamans were gone. We would never mention their names because they would receive a huge backlash from all communities, and we don’t want that for anyone. Since that time, we have served plant medicine to more Black people than any center we know of, and it’s gone incredibly well as we’ve attracted many leaders from the Black community to come and experience our program.
Interviewer: Were there any places where you’ve seen racial bias from a operational standpoint Rythmia?
Gerry: Since the company started, there have only been two negative articles published. One got taken down because it was so factually incorrect; the other was from a past volunteer who had radically different views than ours. Most news outlets have been super kind and supportive of the Black initiative at Rythmia, especially in light of its board members. There is a new article brewing that has disturbing origins.
Interviewer: Let’s get into that… We read the questions that the reporter was asking you. One Rolling Out journalist said it was, “one of the most antagonistic inquiries I’ve seen in the reporting.” It seemed the reporter wanted to make you look like a cult leader, or a spiritual leader of some kind. Are you a cult leader?
Gerry: No. I always say the exact same thing every single Monday that I do my workshop. I’m not a thought leader, cult leader, or spiritual leader. I’m not special, picked, or chosen. I’m just a guy who had something unique happen to him, and I happened to be in a position to share that experience with other people. I am the most regular of regular guys. I do most things I used to do in my regular life except in moderation. I don’t smoke cigarettes, do drugs or anything like that, but I still occasionally drink alcohol. I still run a vibrant business. I still focus my life on running that business. I’m an entrepreneur or at least a small businessperson. That has not changed. It should be further discussed that I go into great detail about my problems and struggles that I found in life: I talk about my DUI, criminal charges, personal struggles, and past alcoholism; I leave no stone unturned.
Interviewer: The article seems like it will focus on a couple of different things that I would like to question you about. First, let’s talk about any negative experiences from past guests. Secondly, I want to know more about you as a person and your habits. Where would you like to start?
Gerry: Let’s start with the reporter herself. This reporter has been trying to get this story published for years. Most news sources have rejected the story. We believe it was rejected by the New York Times, Jezebel, Double-Blind and initially by Vice. It also appears that this reporter has been more of an editorial-type reporter her whole life and suddenly decided to become an investigative reporter when it came to Rythmia. We also believe that this reporter is linked to the shamans who refused to serve medicine to Black people at our resort. And the plot thickens, as they say.
What I struggle to understand is why would someone with a basic understanding of math look at a company with a 97% plus miracle rate, meaning that 97 or more percent of Rythmia guests are claiming a miracle during their stay, and decide to do a story about the negative 2-3%? Even if you don’t like the word “miracle”, you can replace it with “positive”, meaning over 97% of participants have a positive experience. Knowing full well that approximately 3% should be around 330 people who had a less-than-perfect experience out of the 11,000 plus served. Most news agencies would be reporting about the miracle of having a 97% plus miracle rate. Not the incredibly small fraction who did not report a miracle, and even that 3% is subject to question because 98.89%, almost 99% out of the 11,000 plus, claimed on the survey that they would come back to Rythmia. So, focusing on a few people who had a negative experience seems more like targeting than quality reporting. Why do you think this reporter would target a company focused on helping minority communities with two very prominent shareholders and members of the Board of Directors who are icons in the Black community? This is the big question that needs answering.
In addition, our track record regarding safety is beyond compare. Of the 11,000 plus clients we’ve had to date, only three people actually went to the hospital. One fell at a local supermarket and broke her arm, while another cut his tongue during a plant medicine ceremony but was released without stitches. The third had a mild heart attack suffered during normal activities at the resort. None of them required additional hospitalization.
Also, unfortunately, there was one woman who, after returning home for three weeks, committed suicide. This woman reported in her survey that her stay at Rythmia was excellent and highlighted the kindness of the staff, and also checked the box saying that she would return. We take our customers’ health and welfare very seriously. I doubt there is a resort of any type with this kind of health record. Unfortunately, if you serve enough people, some will get hurt. People may fall in the shower. It’s life, but we do everything possible to manage every risk.
There is an attending EMT in every plant ceremony, as well as nurses and doctors on call. No other plant medicine center that we are aware of operates this way. We have a team of doctors, 9 nurses and multiple medical staff to attend to patients who basically rarely need assistance. Our health record is impeccable. So, why not write something about that? This is one of the many unanswered questions regarding this story.
And after all, Dear Lord, it’s a plant medicine center. It’s not a convalescent home, a kindergarten or a church. People who come here are aware of the inherent risks in taking plant medicine. We do everything to minimize those risks. We have the most stringent medical screening of any plant medicine center in the world.
By the way, I am not saying that there isn’t any need for improvement. I’m the type of person who looks at everything and sees where it can be improved. Our center can be improved, the user experience can be improved, and we are working diligently to do this all the time.
Further, I have nothing against this reporter personally. I was young once, too, and I understand the need to break through and become something in a profession. But there is a right way and a wrong way of doing it. Doing it at the expense of people who are in need of help or worse, at the expense of a race of people who could really benefit from something just to promote your career is bad and, in my opinion, pretty low on the ethics scale.
Interviewer: It also appears from the reporter is posing questions that indicate that you are hard to work for, is this true?
Gerry: That actually has some truth to it. I am really hard to work for as I demand perfection and constantly look for improvement. I look for that improvement in myself and all the people who work with me. I will say that, on average, we pay about two times scale in Costa Rica because we believe in paying for that perfection. A lot of people have been with me for a long time. My COO has been with me for 27 years. My financial manager for 20 years. My CIO for 24 years and my CTO for 20 years. Then, you have the staff at Rythmia. About one-third have been with me since day one at Rythmia. So it’s clear that some people like the work environment that I create. I have very little tolerance for employees that do not give their all. In fact, I’m a real pain in the neck to those. If I were an underperformer, I would hate to work for someone like myself. I would get out as quickly as I came in. I’m not afraid, embarrassed, or ashamed of my standards. Quite frankly, I’m proud of them. I believe all people who enjoy the Rythmia experience are glad that I’m that way.
Interviewer: From what I read, it seems the reporter is trying to make part of the story about you being litigious. Are you a litigious person?
Gerry: Yes, that is factually correct. Plant medicine actually lines up with the legal system. What I mean by that is this, the medicine is looking for the real truth all the time. To be in truth, I have to be held to my agreements, as do you. The court system was set up to make sure that if somebody does not honor their agreement, the people have a legal structure to correct that. So, if you’re doing business with me and you do not honor your agreement, I warn you first, and if you still don’t honor your agreement, I will sue you. If you are breaking the law to my detriment, I warn you, and if you don’t cure the problem, then I will most likely sue you. Now, I am a businessman, and there are times when I change my mind. So, sometimes I sue someone and later find out information that makes me withdraw the complaint. Sometimes I sue someone and settle; this decision is almost always a business decision, just as sometimes I get sued and settle. People say, “how can this be?” Well, it’s simple math. If I’m involved in a legal argument, and I’m right, but it’s going to cost me $1 million to prove it, and there is nothing to win when I’m done, or I could settle it for $50,000, I’m going to settle it right, wrong, or indifferent. But there are times when the act of settling is more detrimental than the cost of money that is needed to defend. One time in Pennsylvania, I battled the state attorney general for almost 10 years until the point that the other defendants settled, but I wouldn’t. In the end, the attorney general gave up. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it is not a consistent application for me that sometimes I change my mind, and I pick the wars that I really feel need to be fought.
Interviewer: The reporter seemed very inquisitive about a woman who took her life in 2017, some three weeks after visiting Rythmia. She asked you if you were trying to talk the family out of the lawsuit. Can you comment on this?
Gerry: Suicide is a terrible thing. It’s a growing problem throughout the United States, and it’s only getting worse. I feel terrible that one of our guests took her own life after being home only a few weeks, but Rythmia was not responsible. When the guest checked out, she rated the resort extremely high. She also commented on the lovingness of the staff. Further, she said that she would return. After talking to her family, I expressed to them that initiating a lawsuit in Costa Rica would not be in their best interest. What I mean by that is this, in Costa Rica, there are no punitive damages. Lawsuits are extremely hard to win. This case would have been very difficult and costly to litigate. It would have added insult to injury, paying for an attorney to lose a lawsuit. I was giving good advice.
Interviewer: The reporter was very interested in how much money you’re making. Why do you think that is?
Gerry: I believe this goes back to the early years when Rythmia lost money. Not only did it lose money, but it lost a lot. Some years, we lost like $300,000 a month. Now we are making money in 2022. We’re not getting rich, but we are making money. I hope that Rythmia continues to make money so that it can continue to serve people who really need what we’re doing. Without profit, there is no company. It’s that simple. I think she feels that making money is a bad thing.
Interviewer: Let’s talk about how to address your guests. Did you once say to a guest, “Hi beautiful, you look gorgeous as a blonde.” Can you expound on this?
Gerry: Here’s my issue. I talk like that to everyone. I was raised by children of the 1930s. When people do plant medicine, they tend to look like they went into a time machine. It’s nothing short of miraculous. I see people every Sunday, and they look so different from the previous Sunday when they checked in that I often ask them if they just got here. I’m not kidding. It’s really something else. Also, in the ten-month span between 2018 and 2019, when I was single, I was actively looking for a companion. I’m sure I spoke to a woman who had visited Rythmia. Keep in mind that almost 12,000 people have come through the doors, and 6,000 were female. I dated two during that time. I may have talked to a few more, but I only dated two people who were ever guests of Rythmia. So in the history of Rythmia, I abided by the very strict dating rules. You cannot date someone within three months of their first check out. That’s the rule. And I can say it’s never been violated.
Interviewer: Our team did some digging on the interviewer and saw a complaint that appears to be from a past employee that said Rythmia has a great TripAdvisor rating because you pay people off to leave great reviews or pay to have bad reviews removed. Is that true? What do you say to this?
Gerry: That is simply not true. We have one of the highest customer-rated reviews on TripAdvisor of any hotel in the world. Why is this? Simply because we’re the best at what we do. Do I pay people to write good reviews? No way, not at all. We ask guests, just like all hotels do, to leave a review. We do not incentivize them or anything of that nature. Regarding paying people to remove reviews, if anybody complains to us and we find the complaint to be legitimate in any way, we refund them, which is what any responsible business should do. By the way, that’s what all good businesess, hotels, restaurants or any consumer-driven enterprise does if they are a quality organization. That is what we do. So, for instance, if you go to a restaurant and get a bad meal and they refund that meal, then there was no harm done. That’s what you would expect a good caring business to do. If that action in and of itself gets a person to remove their bad review or change the review that says, hey, I got a bad meal, but they refunded my money, pretty good organization, I would say, so be it. Since the beginning of Rythmia, we have refunded about 15 people, roughly 1 out of 800.
Interviewer: We also found where it appears a disgruntled past employee stated that your sales system is designed to sell to people who are under the influence of psychedelics. Is there any merit to this?
Gerry: This is absolutely and categorically completely untrue. A 100% false statement. People drink medicine Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The effects of Ayahuasca are completely and totally gone by the weekend. The medical and clinical half-life of the active ingredient is 2.5 hours. We do not sell anything until Friday, Saturday or Sunday. And yes, before they go home, they are given a chance to rebook, to purchase an aftercare program, a home or a stem cell package. But there is no pressure at all, and they can do whatever they like, but they are absolutely not on medicine during this time.
Interviewer: Okay, let’s say this, let’s say that I do medicine during the beginning of a week, and I end up buying a house on the weekend. What happens if I get home and change my mind?
Gerry: Without reservation, we would give you a complete refund. No questions asked. We’ve done it before. We’ve never made someone keep anything that they didn’t want. It’s ridiculous, doing so would be bad business and ethically wrong.
Interviewer: Rythmia has a very active and diverse Board of Directors, many a noted leaders in the Black community. Do they share your sentiments of racially bias reporting against Rythmia?
Gerry: Oh my God, yes, the most vocal has been Rev. Beckwith, who honestly has been hurt by the way this reporter has treated this company, and inadvertently treated him by association. Both he and Martin Luther King III reached out personally to the news source to try to get them to at least question the reporter’s motivation. But they were responded to coldly or not at all. It’s sad that in times like this that men of their stature who have endured so much can be treated in this manner.
Interviewer: The reporter questioned your consumption of alcohol. Do you have a drinking problem?
Gerry: I never once said to anyone that I never drank. My drinking has reduced by about 90% since doing plant medicine. How does that look? In real life, it looks like about eight to ten drinks a month. Before plant medicine, I was consuming over 300 drinks a month. It’s hard to believe but true, from 300 drinks to 8-10. I will also mention that when I am on vacation, I may drink slightly more, as does any other normal human being on vacation. The greatest thing about plant medicine is that it normalizes everything. I say this every Monday, I can do anything, but nothing has me. In my normal life, I drink very infrequently. I think the beautiful thing about plant medicine is that it regulates everything. It’s a true miracle, or at least it has been for me.
Interviewer: What has this experience taught you about the more common discriminatory practices against Black communities?
Gerry: I feel bad for me, but I feel worse for Michael Beckwith and Martin Luther King III because I can’t even imagine what it would be like being them and having to deal with this kind of thing their whole lives. I’ve only had to deal with this reporter for the last few years. This ordeal is honestly the first time I’ve ever witnessed this kind of thing. Imagine what their lives are like and imagine what it’s like being just a regular Black business owner without the support of these heavyweights from that community. I can’t even imagine. I’m sure that this reporter thinks that she’s not racist, as the media source itself likely agrees. But this is the tricky thing about this. Let’s say she’s doing it because of a grudge or to help a friend attacking the company. It would still be a racist activity because she didn’t even consider the overriding purpose behind the company and its shareholders and board members who are Black. She put that second over some type of grudge, and the grudge looks to me like it’s motivated by racism, but that’s my opinion.
Interviewer: Rolling Out reviewed an email exchange where you were defending Black people, and the reporter said to you, “what nationality are you?” This is after admitting she watched numerous videos of you. Why do you think she posed the question in that manner and what was your initial reaction?
Gerry: I was upset by it as well. The inference was as clear as day is long. I didn’t answer it at that time, but here’s the truth. I want to help Black people because they helped me so much. Michael Bernard Beckwith was instrumental in turning my life around. He’s a saint, in my opinion. Then, Moughenda Mikala introduced me to plant medicine, and that saved my life. So, two out of the three people who influenced my life the most were Black. So yes, I owe a debt to the Black community.
Interviewer: In our due diligence, we reviewed massive amounts of information, including emails and text messages. We also reached out to multiple individuals connected to this story, some chose not to comment, including the reporter. Were you shocked the decision was made to move forward with a story against Rythmia?
Gerry: Yes, I was obviously taken aback. I still am having trouble getting my hands around the whole thing. I really want to know what the motivation was behind the story. And I believe the only way to get that is in depositions which we are going to have the opportunity to explore the ring and its true intent. I will keep you posted as that unfolds.
Interviewer: What has been your biggest takeaway from all this.
Gerry: As the saying goes, don’t judge someone until you walk a mile in their shoes. Nothing has ever been more apparent to me. My whole life, I honestly thought that people of color were making too much of a big deal about how they were currently being treated. And now I honestly know what they’re enduring. But I never would have seen it until it happened to me. That’s so sad because so many people believe it doesn’t exist, only because it hasn’t happened to them because they have not been in a position to have it happen. I’m not trying to make more of a big deal of this than it is. I also believe in complete accountability and responsibility in those things as well. But this is a very slippery and hard to detect issue. I can tell you going forward that I am constantly aware of it. After this whole thing, I look back in time and see where I participated in it myself.
Interviewer: I reached out to the reporter in question directly, the news source, and some of its key executives. I received virtually no response. Nobody wanted to talk with me about this. I posed relevant questions about allegations of racism, previous on-record behavior, if the reporter in question advised a key person in the narrative to file a lawsuit against Rythmia and other questions germane to the series. But I do appreciate you agreeing to this interview and answering the tough questions.
Gerry: Thanks Dr. Richey. We appreciate Rolling Out hearing our side, reviewing the information and being willing to be fair.
***Multiple supporters of Rythmia wanted to provide comments on the record. We decided to include their statements in full below***
“Martin Luther King lll and I (Rev. Michael Bernard Beckwith) have worked tirelessly almost our entire lives to eliminate the disease of racism and to elevate people who have been marginalized, especially people of color. I think it’s interesting when someone like Gerry gets a glimpse of racism. It can be an eye-opening experience. Racism is so systemic that, at times is hard to see. I commend Gerry for creating a company that honors, values, and assists people from all walks of life, including Black and Brown folk and people of different sexual orientations. I also commend Gerry for standing up and having the courage to speak about this issue when for him, it would be safer just to be quiet. My continued prayer is for humanity to wake up from the intoxicated sleepwalk of separation, hate, and bigotry of all kinds. I would also hope that people would be inspired by Gerry and bring these issues to light as they occur so they can be healed. As we no longer sweep these malicious attitudes and events under the proverbial rug, we can eventually heal this issue and move forward as a species. I say this, embracing all in peace and love.”
– Rev. Michael Bernard Beckwith & Dr. Martin Luther King III
“As the president and CEO of the nation’s first and largest trade association of Black businesses and professionals nationwide, the National Business League, I’ve witnessed firsthand the historical and present-day impact of white supremacy and racism. Not only has racism directly influenced the organization’s 120,000 members, but it is a major reason for the isolation, marginalization, discrimination, and exclusion of more than 2.9 million Black-owned businesses operating in America and internationally throughout history. The sad part is that race is an invented socio-economic construct for control. It was created in the late 16th century by a white ruling class to oppress Black and indigenous communities throughout the world. Racism itself is based on a fictitious phenotypical illusion separating humans by skin tone and melanin concentration marking the difference between Black and white. As the leader of an international movement toward healing and spiritual awakening, Gerard Powell, affectionately known as Gerry, has developed a company that embraces people from all walks of life, but also reconnects Black and indigenous people back to the healing traditions of the ancient past, which was created thousands of years ago before being introduced to the rest of the world. The vision is working, with many unhealed souls and those with racist agendas of hate and bigotry gentrifying access to Gerry’s natural healing remedies, trying to stop the vision from working. These remedies have already, in a short period of time, touched thousands upon thousands of souls. But as we know, as the law of opposites suggests that when you are doing something positive, the negative will try its best to stop you. The people, institutions, systems, and structures that perpetuate racism and white supremacy cannot survive in a world that is healing people and returning to a knowledge of themselves. The great thing is that no matter who or what is behind these racist attacks against Gerry and his company, the vision and mission is too great, as peace, love and truth always prevail in the end. I’m thankful for Gerry, as we shine a light on the positive and the work that must be done to continue the vision forward.”
– Dr. Kenneth L. Harris, president and CEO, The National Business League
“My experience of Gerry and the spiritually evolutionary process of Rythmia is that he is committed to transformation of human minds and hearts, which is the seed of most of the ills of the world, from a deeply personal level that impacts the world on the global level, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation. He has created and offers a process, practiced in a safe environment where people, all people are welcomed, respected, supported and provided an opportunity to give of themselves, to themselves and receive what they seek in a profoundly spiritual way. His bold initiatives into the Black and minority communities are constant and ongoing. Although I find it sad, it doesn’t surprise me that both he and Rythmia have become targets of the white-controlled media.”
– Iyanla VanZant
In part two of the series, we will be diving deeper into the relationship with Gerry Powell’s ex-girlfriend and some of the allegations regarding the reporter’s conduct.
In part three of the series, we will review various lawsuits, one of which, as we understand, intends to have allegations that include but are not limited to racially-based harassment and racially-based business interference. We will spend time reviewing the parties involved and try to determine what is the source of this alleged racism.
The series will also highlight the mental nuances associated with bias, racism and white privilege by asking psychologists to opine in the subject.
In part four, we will interview industry leaders from various minority communities about how they think this reporter’s story, in light of all its components, should’ve been handled from the onset. We will have an open discussion whereby we can work toward a better, more honest approach from media outlets and reporters. In addition to being more honest, we will explore ways tells stories that honor culture through an equitable lens.