Black Business Matter: Historic Washington Neighborhood Anacostia Getting its First (Black) Bookstore in Two Decades 

Black Bookstores
(Photo by Rob Jinks) Mahogany Books, owned by husband and wife team, Derrick and Ramunda Young

The historic Anacostia neighborhood of Southeast Washington, D.C., has a lot of stories to tell. Within this predominantly Black community lying east of the Anacostia River, there are foundational stories of how the region was originally inhabited and named by the Nacotchtank natives who once nurtured their families from the life-sustaining waters of the nearby river. There are fascinating 19th-century anecdotes about the area’s most famous citizen, Frederick Douglass, the acclaimed “Sage of Anacostia.” There are compelling 20th-century accounts of area families serving the war effort at nearby military and manufacturing sites, of subsequent white flight, racial violence and civil rights, of hardworking African-Americans making ends meet. And there are tragic tales of how, by the turn of the 21st century, the name “Anacostia” had merged with its infamous yet distorted reputation for drugs and violence to symbolize that dangerous place “cross the river” you dare not go.

Fortunately, the stories of this historic and reemerging neighborhood are still being written. Unfortunately, for the past two decades there have been no bookstores in the Anacostia community to help convey them.

That is, until now. MahoganyBooks is challenging this historic neighborhood to write a new chapter in community education and service by setting up shop in the four-year-old Anacostia Arts Center at 1231 Good Hope Road. Consistent with the faces of the surrounding community, Mahogany specializes in books written for, by or about people of the African diaspora.

“In D.C., there’s a bunch of gentrification going on, as we know, but Southeast is still heavily populated with Black people,” said Ramunda Young, who co-owns the company with husband Derrick. For us to be in that space, said Young, it “was critical for our community to have access to quality new books that reflect who we are as a people. And that location really speaks to that” especially given “there are other Black businesses in the arts center and in the surrounding community. So we are right at home within these demographics.”

While the African-American population in the traditionally majority-Black city of Washington has recently fallen slightly below 50 percent, it has remained above the 90 percent mark in its Anacostia neighborhood. And of the 469,000 city residents age 16 and older, approximately 36 percent function at the lowest level of literacy, with the majority of those concentrated east of the Anacostia River.

“When you look at what illiteracy means for our community, and how the rate of young people being incarcerated is based off the level of their reading, we want to help stop that increase,” stressed Young, noting one effective way is to offer a representative and “accessible bookstore in the community.”

“It is important for MahoganyBooks to be in Anacostia because we need to have places where entrepreneurs look like the community, where they see that positive reflection, and where they feel like they are a part of something greater than themselves,” echoed husband Derrick, confirming, “that’s why it’s important for us to have this business, and that’s why we are here.”

Although Mahogany is taking up new space in the 9300 square-foot arts center — the first bookstore to serve the Anacostia neighborhood since Pyramid Books closed in the mid-1990s — the company is far from new. For the past decade Mahogany has successfully sold books online and will continue to do so along with in-person sales at its new location. The company has also serviced numerous book events and book clubs in the Washington metro area.

“Derrick and Ramunda are making a significant contribution to the community, not just locally but nationally,” said colleague Troy Johnson, owner of aalbc.com (African American Literature Book Club), the oldest, largest and most frequently visited website for books by or about people of African descent. “The institution they have built will celebrate and promote the contributions of Black writers, both online and off, for generations to come. With their ongoing dedication to, and support from, our community, I hope their work will provide a model for others across the country to follow.”

Johnson’s optimism is wholly relevant given his organization’s ongoing tracking of Black-owned bookstores around the nation. At last count, there were 55, and many, noted Johnson, “are struggling for survival.” Accordingly, the challenging issue of sustainability was a key consideration in determining Mahogany’s current location and business model. The partnership with the arts center in a space housing other active businesses enables the company to offer ongoing literary and cultural events within a popular community hub while simultaneously streaming them to a virtual community. Mahogany will also benefit from traffic from the Latinx community in the Washington area as it hosts Duende District within its space, a pop-up bookstore with a similar mission.

“My husband and I have both worked at Black-owned bookstores in the past and we’ve seen what it has meant to our community,” said Young. “It’s one thing to have a space to just go purchase a book, but it’s another to be a haven and a place for authentic dialogue to take place, and that’s what we want MahoganyBooks to be.” While offering these types of community conversations and experiences, continued Young, “We also want to encourage our young people by creating and curating that love of reading at a very young age.”

Young is speaking from experience. The couple’s 12-year-old daughter, who has played an active role in helping out and learning from her parent’s decade-old enterprise, is a straight-A student her mother proudly describes as “a voracious reader” who “eats, sleeps and breathes books.”

Her name?

Mahogany.

Source: Black info

Cat Hair Links Woman to Bombs Mailed to Obama and Texas Governor

Julia Poff, 46, is accused of sending explosives to Barack Obama and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. (DPS)

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — A Texas woman is accused of sending homemade bombs in 2016 to then-President Barack Obama and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that could have killed or maimed the leaders, prosecutors said.

Julia Poff, 46, mailed the devices in October 2016, along with a third package that she sent to the Social Security Administration, according to an indictment. Of the three packages, only Abbott opened his. It did not detonate because “he did not open it as designed,” court documents said.

Investigators traced Poff to the package sent to Obama because of cat hair found under an address label, according to a court document from a Nov. 17 detention hearing.

A grand jury indicted her this month on six counts, including mailing injurious articles and transporting explosives with the intent to kill and injure, according to documents filed this week in district court in Houston.

Poff is being held at the Houston federal detention center. Poff’s attorney, Ashley Kaper, said her efforts to keep her client out of custody have been “unsuccessful,” but she declined to comment further, citing the newness of the case.

Federal investigators said the improvised explosive device sent to Abbott contained a cellphone, a cigarette package and a salad dressing cap, according to the detention hearing document. It says a similar device was sent to Obama and that “the same” device was sent to the Social Security Administration.

The cigarette box used in the device sent to Abbott bore a Texas tobacco stamp that identifies the store where the cigarettes were bought. The two incendiary powders in the box matched materials found in Poff’s home, federal court documents showed.

At the hearing, a federal agent testified that Poff was angry with Abbott because she did not receive support from her ex-husband when Abbott served as Texas Attorney General, before he was elected governor in 2014. According to court documents, Poff’s application for social security benefits was denied.

The agent also testified that Poff said she just didn’t like Obama.

Katie Hill, a spokeswoman with the former president’s private office, declined to comment Friday. A call by The Associated Press to Abbott’s public affairs office in Austin was not immediately returned.

A criminal background check shows Poff has a misdemeanor conviction for theft. She was also convicted for state felony fraud. In both cases, she was given probation.

A pretrial conference in the case is scheduled for early next year.

Source: Black info

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