Located in Los Angeles, CA, in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Mall, second floor, Macy bridge is Malik Books, standing with a very clear and simple message – give voice to the voiceless.
“I grew up in a time when we didn’t even have a lot of children’s books that had images to reflect the African American experience. In the 80s, there were hardly any children’s books. I mean, even greeting cards, there were no African Americans. It was very few,” says Malik Mohammad, the owner of Malik Books.
The inception of this formidable independent bookstore and staple of the Baldwin Hills community began in 1990, not long after Malik graduated from USC. He had an epiphany about looking at the black experience as world history, not just U.S. history, and wanted his community to have the same information.
He says, “I thought, what it did for me, it could do for us. Because [there was] a lack of knowledge for my people so I was like, ‘Man, we need self esteem, we need to know that Black history didn’t start with just slavery, and that Black America started with world history.’ So let’s see if we can open up a bookstore and start having those kinds of books available so that they can change the perception, and we can feel good about ourselves as a people.”
In a city as large and sprawling as Los Angeles, distance can make all the difference in what people have access to. Malik says, “Right now it’s excellent timing to have a community-based bookstore. People realize that you shouldn’t have to drive 5-6 miles just to get a basic book.” And sure, anyone with a wifi connection has access to books thanks to sites like Amazon, but conglomerates, particularly those online, lack the aura of a tight-knit community. There’s no one to recommend something you need to read on the Internet.
“[Malik Books] brings about a sense of belonging, and I think that everyday, people come in and just thank us for being here, thank us for our service, they appreciate us being present, and they just want to buy something to support,” Malik says. It’s apparent from the careful organization of genres in the store that there’s something for everyone. People can read up on history, self-help, romance, children’s, biographies, etc, all under the African American diaspora.
"A lack of books is like a lack of soul. Everything that you want to find is in a book."
Books have been an important part of learning, growth, imagination, and everything else since writing was invented. Malik says, “A lack of books is like a lack of soul. Everything that you want to find is in a book. Now people say it’s on the internet, but you’ve got to be careful about that too.” The importance of community is very prevalent at Malik’s, which is emphasized in the community events that take place at the store such as book signings and readings by the authors. There’s even a push for self-published authors everywhere in the store. You won’t find a special self-published section, though. A book is a book, no matter if it went through a publisher, or went straight to print from the author’s keyboard.
Malik offers his wisdom on the topic of self-publishing. “You have to market, you have to get out here and let people know that your product exists, and here at Malik’s, we give voice to the voiceless, we sell self-published authors because we want to promote you, because [at] Amazon… who knows you there?”
At Malik’s, self-published authors are an integral part of the community. Malik tells Frolic, “We love our community, local authors, self-publishing authors, why? Because they don’t have a lot of money, they don’t have a lot of time, they’re out there working 9-5, they had an idea, they put it in a book, and that’s a beautiful thing. But there’s a lot of things that have to go behind that in order to let people know that your book exists.”
This isn’t to say that Malik has all the answers as to how to be a successful self-published author. Rather, it emphasizes the importance of having a community of dedicated readers who will give novels a chance because it has received the stamp of approval by appearing in the store.
"The best way for communities to love and respect each other is to understand each other."
One of the biggest and most significant sections of the store is the children’s section. Malik’s overall mission is, “No matter what your circumstances are, they can be overcome. No matter where you’re born, you can still be successful. No matter the situation, you can make a change. The best way for communities to love and respect each other is to understand each other. That’s a lot easier if you start when you’re young. It’s harder when you’re older to change. That’s why I’ve got all the children’s books, because they’ve got to learn to love themselves when they’re young. I had to expand on the children’s selection because it’s so important that we reach the youth and teach them about themselves to respect themselves.”
It doesn’t matter which section of Malik Books that you peruse, there is a clear and present message that persists throughout the entire store, “We just want people to see value within themselves, and that’s for everybody! The only way people can relate and get along, is to respect each other and love each other, but first you’ve got to love yourself. When you love yourself, you know how to love other people.”
If you ever find yourself in LA, we highly recommend visiting Malik Books! Address is 3650 W W Martin Luther King Jr Blvd Ste 245, Los Angeles, CA 90008.