It’s not uncommon to walk into a bookstore in your city looking for books about black culture or written by black authors only to find they don’t have what you need in stock. Not even on the very bottom shelf in the inventory closet.
We can’t even depend on the public school textbooks to provide our youth with an accurate recollection of black history, at least not one that we would consider too neat and politically correct.
When Derrick and Ramunda Young saw a need for more black literature in the D.C. area, they felt it was their obligation to take the opportunity to curate the black experience in their city and nationwide.
In 2007, the Virginia couple started the black online bookstore MahoganyBooks where they provide a large selection of literature for, by or about people of the African diaspora. The business was built on the couple’s love for literature, community and black culture.
“Ultimately, MahoganyBooks is about changing the community and part of that process is learning about identity and self worth,” Derrick said. “We want to give them the chance to be able to read and get in touch with who they are. We want to leave that kind of legacy for our daughter.”
Derrick was born and raised in Washington, D.C., and attended Bowie State where he received a degree in business marketing. While earning his degree, Derrick worked for Karibu Books, which was the nation’s largest black-owned bookstore chain specializing in African-American literature before closing in 2008. The impact of working at Karibu stuck with Derrick and he added running his own business, preferably a bookstore, to his list of goals.
Ramunda, a business graduate of Langston University, would later on work for Karibu Books as well before its closing and also gained experience in the book industry while working as a community relations manager for another large bookstore chain. Growing up in Oklahoma, Ramunda recalls not having access to a lot of black literature, so she and her husband both had a desire to reach people living in, what they call book deserts, who are desperate to see themselves reflected in the stories they read.
Together, they bootstrapped it and built the website and nurtured relationships with publishers who knew the DMV area was a perfect market for some of their writers. But there weren’t any bookstores anymore.
Derrick and Ramunda created a solution for that. Through MahoganyBooks, the Youngs are contributing to the images, ideas and narrative around the history and culture of black people and hopefully changing how black youth see and feel about themselves.
“We have this mechanism where we are responsible for bringing exposure to black culture, history and literature to kids,” Ramunda said. “It’s important in their development and to their self-appreciation to be able to read books that have characters that look like them. We’re black. Nothing against anybody else, but we felt like we had an obligation to do this for us. We don’t see ourselves reflected in things like advertising and TV shows. So if we have a business, why not take some control of that?”
And that’s exactly what they did. On top of selling popular books that promote black voices, MahoganyBooks hosts events where they invite writers to speak about their work and interact with their readers. In the past 10 years, their reach has grown to include customers nationwide.
“ I especially get excited when orders come in from Oklahoma,” Ramunda proudly exclaimed.
They’ve even influenced their daughter who is an avid reader and has an entrepreneurial spirit and style of her own.
Their next move? A brick and mortar location. The Youngs hope to move into a space in Prince William County, Virginia where they’ll continue to connect woke readers to the literature they crave.