We’re so glad to see you back here today and catching up on the dope African Ancestry LIVE on Wednesday.
This week, we were blessed with not one but two guests, the owners of Mahagony Books: Ramunda and Derrick. A Black-owned, family business they celebrate and sell books for Us, by Us. The couple just celebrated their 19th wedding anniversary and 14 years in business.
They say: “If you want to hide something from Black people, put it in a book.” So, we need to sell them out. For the next month, let’s support Mahogony Books. Instead of giving your money to Amazon Prime or other bookstores, let’s collectively buy from this Black-owned bookstore.
Where are they located?
Our guests, are excited to share their brand-new location, hosted in the National Harbor, just outside the DC area. The first location is in Anacostia Center in Southeast, DC.
It was important to maintain community and create spaces where folks could come together and have amazing conversations. Their store in Anacostia was forced to close from March to October, but virtual options made their growth continual despite the quarantine situation.
The pandemic birthed a second brick-and-mortar.
The locations of the store are paramount. The first, in Anacostia, where the Black community is the majority. The second, hosted in Prince George’s County, which is one of the most affluent Black counties in the country. And the impact is even wider because of the high tourist population at the National Harbor.
“We sold a lot of books once the new store opened – during the pandemic. Between May and October, we sold 100,000 Black books. It actually pushed our business to a different space financially, which was a blessing and a gift – to go to multiple seven figures. We’re grateful. It was a great time to expand and make Black books accessible no matter where you live,” said Ramunda.
What’d they do?
They had to pivot.
They got creative with the community. They put Mahogony Books, front row and center. Since everyone was at home, they all had the best seat in the house. “You can be on the front row of any conversation that we have because you’re at home.”
They thrived by hosting virtual events. “We were actually one of the few first, especially Black bookstores to have a platform ready to go, to be able to connect with authors and connect with the community all across the world.”
Mahogony Books had people join the virtual books by the thousands during the past year. A special community was built around conversations about books and their authors. Front row seats. People were siloed by the quarantine and they were able to assist with the craving for connection. They created author talks and it allowed them to flourish. Some special guests included Al Sharpton, Deborah Union and Misty Copeland. The success has inspired many publishers to reach out and host with them.
Their bookstore makes a heck of an impact.
“When I grew up, I didn’t have that much access to Black books. There are so many intrinsic values of why seeing ourselves in books really matter. It matters from achievement. It matters for careers – everything – because they see it shows you what’s possible.
“An African-American gentleman came to our door. He’s maybe 65-ish, or so. He stood at the threshold of the store. He didn’t come in, but tears just started coming down his face. My husband said ‘sir, is everything okay? What’s going on?’ He kinda slowly leaked out. He said: ‘I’d never seen this many black books in my entire life.’ That’s what we’re here for.
“What drives our passion is that to make these books accessible to people. When they walk into a retail establishment, they see themselves and when they walk out, they are empowered, knowing that their story matters. I’m glad he had that experience because it’s something I know people are looking for. I wanted him to know that. I’m happy that we were able to make this. I think of that story and get choked up every time.”
“It’s the same feeling that I had when I walked into a bookstore many, many years ago, I had no idea that there were this many Black books before we created our store. I was in shock. I was in awe to know that, for many, many years, I’ve gone to colleges and high schools and didn’t see many Black books on the shelves. You think that you get this great education and then you don’t even know about the myriad of books that are written by us, that are for us, that are about us. I had the same reaction that the gentleman had. I tear up every time I think about that.”
“I went to an HBCU. That’s where I started reading Black books. I’ve got my Black Wall Street shirt on today. I’m from Blackwash, IN and Tulsa, OK. I didn’t even know about Washington. I still live there. My family lives there. And I didn’t know until I went to college. It’s unfathomable to know about the books that are on the shelves that have been created that we have not yet heard of or seen. We’re trying to change that.”
They even have former President Barack Obama’s support.
He’s been a huge supporter of independent bookstores for many, many years. You know, he would go into the DC area and shop at independent bookstores and bring his kids with them. It’s something that was intrinsic in him. He posted about us on social media. We were so excited the first Black president and here we are, a Black bookstore. We just had to. It was important to us to really promote that and push it. We wanted people to hear his story. He started following us on Twitter in late November. So we found out we received a phone call said that he was interested – he loves book club and would love to join our book club.
He discussed his new book, A Promised Land. I was in shock and we had such a short time to put it together and get our book club members and support us together. I’m in awe that we had that conversation of full hour with the president of the United States. It was just the 20 book club members and some of his team members for a full hour. They were able to talk beyond the wonderful book, like our nation’s highest ideals and goals.
“We were honored to have him as part of our family. It was a great night. It was incredible. And I even got on video that I’m their business bestie.”
What are we reading this summer? What do we recommend?
Here’s one recommendation: I Came As A Shadow by John Thompson .
Other writers Mahogony Books recommend are: S. Cosby, Tracy Clark and Valarie Wilson. To explore expanded lists of their recommended reads, visit here. Also, don’t forget to check our collaboration with the bookstore: African Ancestry Get Rooted Booklist.
How can you support?
Visit their new location!
The National Harbor is a great space for the new store. There’s great parking and there are several million people that come through the area every year. We are excited to provide this space – Black books all day, every day. We’re proud of that. And proud of the community that we’ll now be able to access books in the space.
They soft-opened the new location this weekend, but plan to launch an official grand opening in August for Black Business Month, when people are more intentional about buying Black.
We’re excited to be able to integrate Black businesses into the new location and to work with several Black businesses to build this from the construction to the architects to interior design. We're also very excited to be able to recycle our dollars and the dollars that people all spend with us. We are trying to be very intentional about putting those dollars back into other businesses as well.
If you have a chance to stop in, you’ll also have an opportunity to grab some autographed copies of books.
Want to learn more about Mahogany Books and its wonderful owners? Visit here.
Don’t forget to grab your African Ancestry curated Black book list! Tell us your favorites in the comments below! 📚