Mahogany Books, owned by husband and wife team, Derrick and Ramunda Young, is an online book retailer promoting and preserving the literature of the African-American culture. Unlike many online retailers, the Young’s and Mahogany Books strive to maintain visibility in the local community and spend their time promoting literacy. Prince William Living caught up with the Young’s to learn more about Mahogany Books and their community efforts.
PWL: How did you decide to open Mahogany Books as such a niche business? Why is the niche important as opposed to being a general book retailer?
Ramunda Young: The decision to open Mahogany Books as a niche business was really a joint decision. Derrick and I both have a love of books and experience working in a bookstore in our pasts. We also share a passion to promote authors and literature that are relevant to the African-American experience.
While we grew up in different parts of the country, we both attended historically black colleges. I graduated from Langston University in Oklahoma and Derrick from Bowie State in Maryland. Later we both worked for Karibu Books at different times. Karibu is a specialty bookstore promoting African American literature. Derrick worked there while he was in college, and I worked there eight years later.
One of the reasons that this made sense to us was because we can make books accessible for all customers. People won’t be limited by the selection offered by a local retailer. Secondly, the books we sell are important for everyone. Books by black authors are everyone’s history and impact everyone.
Derrick Young: The issue of identity matters. Books by African American authors help people become comfortable with who they are. Major bookstores often have only a small segment of their store designated for African-American authors. If one saw that as a snapshot of African-American authors, it would not reflect the larger impact of black authors. Our ability to support black authors allows them to keep producing their literature. We feel it is important so that their voices continue to be heard and their art does not die out. Our motto is #blackbooksmatter.
PWL: How has your passion for books and literature translated into your business mission?
Derrick Young: Our mission is simple. We want to improve our community through books. Books are essential to obtaining an education, getting to know yourself and having a broader vision of the world and what you can accomplish.
Ramunda Young: We consider ourselves socialpreneurs – business owners with a purpose to help remedy social issues. We are in a unique position to give back to our community and increase literacy rates. Increasing literacy affects society in general and can have a direct effect on the African-American population. Literacy statistics are staggering. For example, according to begintoread.com, “two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare … [and] more than 60 percent of inmates in prison are functionally illiterate.”
PWL: Tell us more about your community activities and how they support your mission to increase literacy.
Derrick Young: We frequently participate in literacy events that focus on books for kids. We have participated in book fairs at Metz Middle School, the Boys and Girls Club and Chinn library to name a few. Last year at the African-American Heritage Festival of Prince William County, we set up a donation station where people could drop off or pick up books for kids.
This event will be held August 6 from 12-6 p.m. at Metz Middle School. We will participate in this event again this year.
We have also set up a free lending library at the Jirani Coffee House in Old Town Manassas. Our hope is that people will linger, relax and find a book that they would like to read and return. This library serves to help connect us to local families, promotes literacy among the community and also helps connect people to African-American voices in literature. PWL: How do you divide the work responsibilities?
Ramunda Young: We really manage the work according to our strengths. Derrick is the CEO. He is more technical and manages the website and analytics. I do more of the community relations and events. Though we manage different aspects of the business, communication is very important. We have frequent strategy sessions, and 90 percent of decisions are made jointly. The determining factor is often whether the decision will have an impact on our brand identity or vision.
For additional information about MahoganyBooks, visit mahoganybooks.com.
Tracy Shevlin (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a native Virginian and long-time Manassas area resident. She is a graduate of George Mason University where she is also an office manager. Follow her on twitter @nvalady1.