On January 21st, we announced the creation of a new writing series called Black Books Matter: From the Writers Perspective featuring writers from Washington DC. The yearlong series will feature original pieces from new and emerging voices examining the events of the past year using bestselling and classic black literature as a touchstone for reflection, empowerment, and healing. Tackling themes of: Family, Mental Health, Identity, and Our Black Future, these talented young writers will work with series editor, Panama Jackson, co-founder of the award-winning website, VerySmartBrothas.com, and current Senior Editor at TheRoot.com, to give voice to their fears, hopes, wants, and needs during this very unique moment in world history.
“I am very excited about this next step in the progression of MahoganyBooks to now also serve as a platform via our BlackBooksMatter.com site to amplify the voices of Black writers from communities too often overlooked and underestimated. These individuals have very unique voices and urgent perspectives that are also worthy of being considered as we seek to understand the impact of this moment.” stated Derrick Young, co-founder and co-owner of MahoganyBooks.”
So without further ado let’s introduce you to the gifted individuals, in alphabetical order, selected to contribute to MahoganyBooks’ very first content series, Black Books Matter: From the Writers Perspective.
(Drum roll please…)
On February 14, 2011, Olutosin “Olu” Burrell discovered by happenstance that his first name is an anagram for the word “solution.” Since then, he has spent most of his time trying to temper his urge to solve EVERYTHING. That realization drives him to maintain a growth mindset by being not just a lifelong learner, but practitioner.
By day, Olu works in the leading human resource agency in the District of Columbia, where he administers leadership, training, conducts executive workplace coaching, and manages and Executive Leadership Program. In addition to this work, he also independently contracts as a writer, speaker, coach and consultant working with individuals, teams, and organizations in the federal government, not-for-profit, private, K-12 and higher education arenas.
Olu counts storytelling and the spoken word as part of his strengths, and–where appropriate–includes them in his engagements as he encourages his clients to craft their own legend. A student of inquiry and behavioral science, he “treats the interrogative as the imperative” in establishing first connection and then breakthrough.
Olu is a proud son of Howard University where he earned a B.A. in English. He also earned a M.S. in Organization Development from American University, and a Graduate Certificate in Comprehensive Evidence-Based Coaching from Fielding Graduate University, where he focused on leadership, organizational, and personal coaching. He is certified as a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) from the International Coach Federation and holds certifications in a number of leadership, diversity, and 360° instruments.
A fifth generation Washingtonian, Olu resides in Ward 8 his wife Farran and their two children Samara and Solomon.
“It is my intention to navigate the tension between what it is we hold sacred and that which makes us scared. As a COVID-19 survivor, I have been forced to reckon with what it means to have done so when so many others have not, and how that informs the way we show up for both ourselves and for others when we most need it.”Olu Burrell
Follow Olu @oluburrellconsulting on Instagram
Ellie Imani loves words! Since she was small in the laps of her elders listening to them tell their stories, she has honored the power that words hold.
She began telling stories as a small child and won her first poetry contest in the 7th grade. She was published for the first time in the 9th grade. Since then, she’s worked as a content creator for non-profit organizations around the DMV and written poetry and personal essays nonstop.
“With this series, I aim to explore the tender beauty and complexity of the mundane and exceptional daily experiences of LWB – Living While Black – today.”Ellie Imani
Follow Ellie @queenellieimani on Instagram
Mia Keeys is the first Director of Health Equity Policy and Advocacy of the American Medical Association’s Center for Health Equity. She is the former Policy Director of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust and Health Policy Advisor to Congresswoman Robin Kelly (D-IL). Previously, Mia has also been a Kaiser Family Foundation Barbara Jordan Health Policy Scholar; a Fellow for the City of Philadelphia in the Deputy Mayor’s Office for Health and Opportunity; an HIV/AIDS researcher in South Africa; and a U.S. Fulbright Fellow to Indonesia, where she worked on education and public health initiatives on behalf of youth and their families for three years. The National Minority Quality Forum recognizes Mia as a 40 Under 40 Leader in Minority Health. The National Academy of Medicine features Mia’s children’s book on health equity—titled Cole Blue, Full of Valor—in their 2017 national exhibit, “Visualizing Health Equity.” Her work on youth and the imagination is featured in a TEDx Talk, titled “A Racial Imagination Quotient.”
Mia holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in English and Psychology from Cheyney University, and a Master of Arts degree in Medical Sociology from Vanderbilt University, where she was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Fellow through Meharry Medical College. She is currently a doctoral student at The Milken Institute School of Public Health at The George Washington University. Mia is also a creative non-fiction writer, with training from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. She is originally from Philadelphia, PA.
“COVID-19, enduring, horrific racial inequities, and the recent assaults on our democracy, assail my neighbors just steps outside our D.C. doorsteps. These are times of merciless injustice. Yet, we also find these are also times of lovingkindness. By elevating the 2020 tale of D.C. through written word, I intend to do (us) justly by both accounts.”Mia Keeys
Follow Mia @mia.keeys on Instagram
Joya Smith Matthews
Joya Smith Matthews is an energetic communicator and writer in Washington, DC. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Public Relations, and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Memphis. She is currently the Associate Director for the Mayor’s Office on Women’s Policy and Initiatives where she connects District women to resources and opportunities designed for them. She is a writer for ESPN’s The Undefeated, where she regularly produces original stories on race, sports and culture. As a past local television host of “Another Perspective,” she is adept at communicating with various audiences and relaying appropriate and specialized messaging.
“The unforeseen pandemic created difficulties for everyone this past year, but as the saying goes, ‘when America catches a cold, Black folks get pneumonia’. I intend for the work I share to carefully illustrate the unique impact this virus has had on communities of color, and how it added just another layer of things for us to persevere through. The pandemic did not introduce hardship to us. It amplified and intensified it, and yet, in the midst of it, there are still beautiful stories to be told, and I am honored to tell some of them.”Joya Matt
Ijeoma Njaka is a writer and educator currently working on her first novel. She is an alumna of the Hurston/Wright, Kimbilio Fiction, VONA/Voices of Our Nations, and GrubStreet’s Novel Generator programs with publications in the Embark Literary Journal, Auburn Avenue, and Teaching Tolerance. Originally from the Twin Cities, Ijeoma now lives in Cleveland Park, DC.
I see writing and the arts as ways to help us do the hard work of navigating hard things, so I look forward to sharing when, why, and how books have personally helped me make my way through.Ijeoma Njaka
A Very Special Contributor
We had a number of incredible entries submitted for consideration which made the decision to get down to 5 writers difficult. However, one entry surprised us and forced us to create a special spot for them. All too often we forget that our children are experiencing trials, traumas, joys, and successes in parallel to our own. With that in mind, this young writer made a submission that forced us to slow down and take a bigger view of this series. With that in mind, please help us welcome our super special contributor…
Kahlil Boyd is a 5th grade student at Ingenuity Prep growing up in Congress Heights. He received a 2020 Honorable Mention in the Global Harmony Youth Writing Contest. He loves hanging out in bookstores, and his favorite things to do are: read books, play games, and watch TV.
“I choose to write so that everyone can understand how other kids might be feeling about quarantine. Sometimes quarantine affects kids harder than what people might think. Writing lets me speak out.”Khalil Boyd