For Derrick and Ramunda Young, MahoganyBooks has always been "a protest movement" to empower the black community. But over the past month, the owners of the Washington, D.C. bookstore have witnessed the nation grappling with systemic racism and police brutality yet again.
As crowds protested the death of George Floyd, a movement to support black-owned businesses coincided with a collective hunger to read up on race and anti-racism. The Youngs, who have championed black authors and stories of the African diaspora for 13 years, said they saw a "tremendous" impact: a 400% increase in sales compared to this time last year.
"I'm double-mind about it. Because, you know, I definitely feel for the family... So that does make me kinda uneasy on the inside," Derrick said. "But, you know, what we've talked about is: How do we engage — again, with intention — so that us as a community, as a country, we're learning from this? And if we're purchasing these books, let's have a conversation."
But the Youngs also urged readers to go "beyond the book."
"Beyond the book means, you've gotten this great purchase, you've bought from a black business… How do you open those pages, really internalize what you've read and then change? It's one thing to read. Then there's a second part: to execute. And so for us, we're all excited, but we don't want it to be short-lived," Ramunda said.
Stressing the importance of daily actions and sustained momentum to uproot racial injustice, the Youngs pointed to issues beyond the criminal justice system and police engagement.
"There's still a need for the curriculum in schools to be more representative of all the kids in those classrooms. There's still a need for… gentrification not to be destroying families and their homes that they've been in for 10, 20, 30 years," Derrick said, adding, "It's in our education. It's in our healthcare... It's in the access to the foods that we have."
The duo also called out hiring practices. "I've never seen this many emails come from all these corporations who are now saying, 'We support black people,' right? And I think part of me is excited. Another part is like, 'This is just trending,' right?" Ramunda said. "But I think they have an obligation big and small... Look at their board of directors. It needs to be more reflective of who we are, having us around the table."
According to Fortune, there are five black CEOs among Fortune 500 companies — 1%. Approximately 13.4% of the U.S. population are people who are black or African American, census data shows.
"We're just as brilliant, just as phenomenal. Degreed, non-degreed, but just as amazing." Ramunda said. "So businesses have that opportunity to tap into that talent. We're here."
The Youngs added that ultimately, the idea of business as activism continues to drive MahoganyBooks as their platform expands.
"How do I make it, now, be something that I live and I breathe and I execute on? So have it in your calendar. Have it on your phone. Have your recurring payment go to a black business," Ramunda said. "Because it's not just the black business. We say that. But it's a business. And it's a business that is providing a service or a good to a community at large. But I think people need to make it that type of priority, to make sure for us, that black books matter."