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Family brings black literature to African-American community with no bookstores

Residents in some of D.C.’s predominantly African-American neighborhoods used to have to travel across the city to buy a book, only to find minimal works by black authors. Derrick and Ramunda Young wanted to change that.

WASHINGTON — Derrick and Ramunda Young have always loved reading. When they were dating, they would spend hours at a bookstore, hanging out together.

But they also knew how hard it could be to find literature that spoke to their heritage. Most bookstores didn’t prominently feature many works by black writers.

So when they thought about starting a small business together, books seemed like the right industry to break into. In 2007, they launched MahoganyBooks.com, specializing in books written by black authors. They named the business for their daughter Mahogany and used a photo of her as inspiration for the logo.

For 10 years they built their brand and industry connections, using the internet as a way to improve accessibility to black literature nationwide. 

At the heart of the business was their family and a passion for making a difference. But they still craved the in-person connections the online marketplace lacked.

Derrick and Ramunda started holding author talks and other events and realized they were missing opportunities for community without a physical space for MahoganyBooks.

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“Online taught us a lot, but there’s something about having people come into a space, and that was always something that was important to us,” Ramunda said.

They decided to open a brick and mortar store in Anacostia, a historically African-American neighborhood in Southeast Washington, D.C.

“What defines this area is the people, it’s the community,” Derrick, who grew up in the area, said. 

“Generations upon generations of people who have worked and given everything they can to grow and raise their family to give them a better chance, like my father did for me,” Derrick said.

The doors of MahoganyBooks opened in 2017. The couple welcomed locals and out-of-town visitors to their warm, wood-paneled space in the Anacostia Arts Center.

Not only did their bookstore increase accessibility to black literature in Southeast D.C., it also increased access to any books for purchase in the area. They own the only bookstore currently in D.C.'s Ward 8.

In fact, according to a 2016 "Urban Education" study, the region was identified as a "book desert." The study found 830 children would have to share a single age-appropriate book in Anacostia, whereas only two children would need to share in the neighboring Capitol Hill community. 

“There’s no reason why the books that are on these shelves and that are about our history have to be across town," Ramunda said. "So the access was important to us. Why does this community have to jump through hoops to do something that is a basic and normal piece of American life?” 

Business is thriving today as patrons come from across the region to shop at MahoganyBooks, often the same customers week after week. The Youngs hold a weekly book club and continue to host author events at the store.

“This, at the end of the day, is a family venture that hopefully continues to build a legacy for our daughter, but also builds a legacy for our people here,” Derrick said.

To order from MahoganyBooks, visit their website here. 

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