Can’t get enough great reads? Join our official monthly book club, HuffPost Readable, to get great book suggestions and participate in important discussions with fellow book lovers.
Even though she loved reading and lived minutes from Tulsa’s famed Black Wall Street, Ramunda Young had never read a book by a Black author until she attended Langston University, Oklahoma’s notable historically Black university.
For Ramunda and her husband, Derrick Young, it was a no-brainer to open up Washington, D.C.’s Mahogany Books, an independent bookstore haven that boasts an impressive literary collection of Black culture and history. Owning the store combines their love of business, books and community while also providing necessary access to Black writing and heritage.
“Once I started reading Black books, it was just life-changing for me. And what a better and more powerful way than to open up a bookstore that would allow other people to have access to those books, too,” Ramunda told HuffPost.
Both Ramunda and Derrick expressed a deep understanding of the grim future that awaits us all if Black books are not preserved, taught and remembered. Derrick noted it would create an opportunity for history to be rewritten, providing fertile ground for events to repeat themselves and a dissolution of the ideals that Black people have fought so hard to attain.
“What we are doing to history and what we are allowing ourselves to forget creates a situation where people are no longer empowered or have the foundation on which to push back,” Derrick said. “Making these books accessible and available to people is first and foremost about freedom. These words and this knowledge is about allowing people the ability to protect themselves and remember their history, the trauma that we came from and the means to push forward.”
Ramunda also said that getting Black books into the hands of young people is crucial for generating empathy and future success, citing studies that show when Black and brown children read books in which they see themselves represented, they have better self-esteem and become better contributors.
“When young people come into our store, they are just mesmerized by all the books that have little Black and brown faces on them,” she said. “They feel recognized and seen not just in books about slavery or Civil Rights, but they can be a little Black kid who loves to skateboard or is a scientist. Those images are powerful, not just for those Black and brown kids, but for all kids, because empathy is created from learning and understanding other people’s experiences.”
Derrick added that it can be extremely difficult to feel like a multifaceted person while also wading through the many stereotypes placed on Black people and Black men, in particular. He said books like “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker” by Damon Young and “The Beautiful Struggle” by Ta-Nehisi Coates help to remind us of the complexities in all of us.
“There’s never space just to be a nerd, a Black guy who loves his wife, wants to read comics and doesn’t want to get into any fights,” Derrick laughed as he sat in front an artful display of FunkoPop collectibles.
To read Black books is to actively participate in understanding Black history and its future. And, as Derrick told HuffPost, “We have to hear from other people and hear other viewpoints in order to grow and become a more holistic person.”
If you want to take part in celebrating Black literary culture and keeping it alive, see the list below for some of Ramunda and Derrick’s book recommendations as well more picks from Rick Griffith, part owner of the Denver-based bookstore Shop at Matter.
HuffPost may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page. Every item is independently selected by the HuffPost Shopping team. Prices and availability are subject to change.
A powerful memoir of essays about enduring societies’ expectations of being a Black man
A finalist for the NAACP Image Award
, Damon Young's "What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker" is compilation of essays that portray what it's like to a Black man in America, written with honesty and touches of humor. Derrick said this book is a very human take on tearing down stereotypes that usually follow Black men, such as hyper masculinity and militancy.
A journalistic endeavor that explores the origins of slavery and the ways it still permeates the present
"This was one book that shook me to my core," Ramunda said of "The 1619 Project," created by Nikole Hannah-Jones. This catalogue of essays, poems and pieces of fiction show how the racist sentiments that informed slavery reach contemporary American society in every facet, from health care to politics to capitalism.
"It translates so many things that are happening to us as a community. [It's] filled with essays that really shed light on so many mistruths that people think are real and contains backed information that shares how people see us and how we see ourselves," Ramunda said.
You can also donate this book
to be distributed to schools and community organizations across the country.
A beautiful memoir depicting the love of a father and the journeys of his sons in a turbulent time
"The Beautiful Struggle" by Ta-Nehisi Coates was another book that Derrick said depicts Black men as complex individuals that defy the preconceived notions society places on them. "Coates' book talks about just being a guy living in an environment where people force on you this mask of 'you must be tough or you must be this.' I think this book helped me have comfort and contentment in myself," he said. Guided by the force of a father's love in a world not kind to Black men, "The Beautiful Struggle" tells of two sons on divergent paths navigating youth and adulthood in America.
A guide to intentional minimalism that celebrates the importance of Black heritage
You may have heard of Marie Kondo and her affinity for tidy spaces, but "The Afrominimalist's Guide To Living With Less" explores the concept of minimalism free from the white mainstream. "The way that the author, Christine Platt, approaches [minimalism] comes from a very conscious Black perspective about what it means to hold value to things while also tying in a lot of the cultural ideologies about why we consume," Ramunda said.
A thought-provoking manifesto that dismantles mistruths about the Black Panther Party
This searing autobiography by the co-founder of the Black Panther Party
tells of Huey P. Newton's impoverished upbringing, his struggles with the system and ultimate activism. It's a book that Derrick said helped shaped his life. "This book works to dismantle all of the misinformation that's put out about the Black Panther Party," he said.
An autobiographical work that ignites activism, written by a woman of Black Liberation Army
Assata Shakur was briefly a member of the Black Panther Party, then became a leader of the Black Liberation Army. She was convicted on flimsy evidence in 1977 of being an accomplice to murder. Her autobiography tells of her experiences and her eventual journey to activism in one of the most pinnacle points in Civil Rights history.
"The power and strength of Assata Shakur sticks with me from a very deep place. It was one of the first books that I had read about a Black woman standing up for what she believed even when she was exiled from the [United States]," Ramunda said.
A critical book in understanding Black womanhood and a feminist movement fraught with racism
When asked to name some of his favorite Black authors, Griffith mentioned the works of the late bell hooks and one of her most groundbreaking books, "Ain't I A Woman," which deserves a place on every intersectional feminist's bookshelf. Hooks' writing examines every moving piece of the Black woman experience from women in slavery to racism within feminism and the ways in which society devalues Black womanhood.
A distinctive reflection on A Tribe Called Quest and the cultural significance of Black music
Recommended by Griffith, "Go Ahead In The Rain" by Hanif Abdurraquib is, at the outset, one fan's love letter to the popular hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest. But it also tells of what the group really represented in the larger picture of Black culture and the people who listened to them.
A classic work of Baldwin’s that speaks of an unjust system and a love that finds a way
This iconic story by James Baldwin is fiction, but it divulges a very real truth about the ways in which the American justice system has historically used Black people as scapegoats, leading to wrongful convictions and disrupted lives. "If Beale Street Could Talk" uses richly evocative characters to tell a story of a young couple in love, and, when one is incarcerated for a crime he didn't commit, the consequent effects that it has on their families.
An essential book in helping to build a genuine multiracial democracy
Written in 1993, "Race Matters" by Cornel West is a book of essays that provides compassionate and current insights into the race-related problems that affect Americans today. West covers topics from leadership in the Black community to unchecked police brutality and the legacy of Malcom X