Literary Exploration Inspired by Black History Month: MahoganyBooks Recommendations

February 22, 2017

By Derrick A. Young, Co-Founder and President of MahoganyBooks

As the co-founder of MahoganyBooks—an online bookstore that specializes in books written for, by, or about people of the African Diaspora—there are three core beliefs that guide both my work and vision for our company. My beliefs are best summed up in the words of someone I’ve looked up to since my days as an undergrad at Bowie State University.

“Black Literature is the documentation of Black consciousness. It is the quest to communicate what it means to experience life from this vantage point.”

That quote is from an article written by Yao Ahoto, the founder of Karibu Books. It was during my time working for Yao at Karibu and attending Bowie State University, an HBCU [Historically Black College or University], that I began to read books that helped me find not just my place in history, but also my future as a Black man. I admit this approach may seem out of step with political correctness or even non-conforming to the melting pot concept of America-first values. However, as I have come to understand, I cannot be a benefit to someone else if I, myself, am lost and unsure of where I’m headed.

That’s exactly why Black History Month is significant and why it should be better integrated into a yearlong curriculum in our public schools. My reason is simple: the books I recommend below add pride and definition to how African Americans view themselves and their present situation. By participating in Black History Month, people outside the African American community have an opportunity to gain a greater appreciation for the journey and contributions of African Americans. Isn’t that the point of education— to empower, uplift, and enlighten? That’s my sense of it, anyway. I hope you find your next favorite read from the below list of personal favorites and MahoganyBooks “must read books.”

My personal favorites

  1. The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates: One of my all-time favorite books. This memoir tells the true coming-of-age story of a Black boy, in a city that resembled my own youth in D.C. and Prince George’s County. Beautifully written and extremely relatable.
  1. PowerNomics by Dr. Claud Anderson: Though I don’t agree with all the points made in this book, it offers a thoughtful and certainly achievable plan to empower communities to wrest control of their economic and political futures.
  1. Freeman by Leonard Pitts Jr.: A highly emotional story of a “self-freed” slave that explores the will of a man to go through walls with bare fists to reunite with his wife and son. Just wow! This story of a Black man’s love for his family needs to be told more.
  1. Black History of the White House by Clarence Lusane: This book about the “untold history, racial politics, and shifting significance of the White House” should be introduced into high school American History curriculum. To put it simply “the truth shall set you free.”
  1. Revolutionary Suicide by Huey P. Newton: Another of my all-time favorites—one of my top 3 books, for sure—helped me figure out the kind of legacy I wanted to leave. I read this in college and it forever changed my life.

Must-read books

  1. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson: This masterwork chronicles “one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life.”
  1. Never Caught by Erica Armstrong Dunbar: The incredible story of a young woman who risked everything, even the first president of the United States, to say she lived a life freedom.
  1. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin: This classic is a “disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice, the book is an intensely personal and provocative document.”
  1. The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson: Penned by the founder of Black History Week, this book is necessary reading for educators, parents, and students alike. There is a method to the madness of institutionalized racism.
  1. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander: “We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” The author explains in detail how the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control.

About the Author

Derrick A. Young is the Co-Founder and President of MahoganyBooks along with his wife, Ramunda Young. MahoganyBooks is an online bookstore that sells books written for, by, or about people of the African Diaspora. Under Derrick’s leadership as the chief visionary and strategist, MahoganyBooks has become an award-winning bookstore having also executed numerous community give-back events and literary events for noted authors like Congressman John Lewis, Walter Mosley, and Misty Copeland.

Derrick believes keenly that culturally relevant books are essential to equipping children with identity, self-esteem, and innovative thinking. It is why he works tirelessly to promote literacy and partner MahoganyBooks with like-minded businesses and community organizations to increase awareness and access to such books. Derrick is a native of Washington D.C., a proud alum of Bowie State University, and passionate speaker on the subject of books and identity.

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