By Tcherika Petit,
Special to the AFRO

Derrick and Ramunda Young opened the first book shop east of the Anacostia River since Pyramid Books closed in the 1990s. The shop, affectionately known as MahoganyBooks is named after their daughter and is targeted at empowering the Black community in Ward 8. 

“Our goal was to make Black books accessible no matter where you live,” said Ramunda. “It was personal for me to make Black books important to others and know the significance of our history.” 

Ramunda Young grew up in Tulsa, Okla., home of the area known as “Black Wall Street,” before a murderous racist mob pillaged the area and burnt the country’s premier Black business district to the ground. Young often speaks about how she wasn’t privy to the untold Black history in her very own community. Today, she is a living testament to the power of Black entrepreneurs and the Black businesses they create.

The company was initially started as an online bookstore but acquired a brick and mortar storefront in 2017. A second location opened in Maryland during the pandemic on Juneteenth in 2021. 

“As a kid, I wanted to own my own business, make decisions for myself, and I loved the process of creating things and figuring things out,” said Derrick. “I got into college [and] I was exposed to Black businesses and Black bookstores especially. [I] saw the impact it had on everyday people [who were] citing books as a catalyst for personal growth and social change.” 

When the couple created MahoganyBooks, they decided to set themselves apart from other bookstores by emphasizing their inventory of books from Black authors.

Derrick Young told the AFRO that seeing the impact of literature left him “ wanting that to be part of his legacy.” 

“I wanted to create and innovate and bring back to the community,” he said. But their success did not come without surpassing extreme obstacles. 

One of those challenges was getting the appropriate financial funding from traditional financial institutions to make their dreams a reality. But Derrick and Ramonda believed in their idea—and each other. Stepping out on faith, the couple pulled from their retirement fund and their legacy, MahoganyBooks, was born.

Another issue they faced was an internal one: self-doubt. Ramunda Young says this is one area where she has advice for her younger self.

“Mute the naysayers and turn down their voices and turn up your own voice,” said Ramunda Young, when asked to share words of encouragement to aspiring business owners.

While Derrick Young says he advised others to find a mentor that will guide and challenge you.

After the success of their online store and physical store, they still had to find ways to overcome the issue being a business owner presented. The two decided to expand their business into Maryland in the year 2020, but a global crisis struck, however they were able to keep their doors open.

“Finding ways to adapt to the environment at that time, offering the same experience and high quality to each and every different person,” said Derrick.

This attitude was the key to maintaining a thriving business essential to local customers.

Not only does MahoganyBooks offer a space for Black authors to be shared and recognized by the community, but they also offer Black authors a platform to engage with the community and promote their work through the MahoganyBooks through their “Front Row series.” It focuses on virtual discussions with authors while featuring their works. 

At the shop, they actively engage with the community through frequent book club meetings and local giveback programs which has received support from a wide range of avid readers across the nation. In 2021, former President Barack Obama attended their virtual kickoff Black History Month event.

One of their other local giveback initiatives is entitled “Books for the Block,” where they help promote African- American youth literacy in Southeast D.C. 

MahoganyBooks has become a pillar and staple in their community, shining a light on how to operate a successful Black-owned business while also creating an outlet for creators in their community. 

When asked for lasting words of advice the pair had this to offer: 

“Try it and bet on yourselves, take a risk and not be afraid to step out. Do something that makes your spirit light up.”