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“I call this my community service”: An inside look at Georgia Avenue’s one-man bookstore

Montu, as he likes to be called, graces the off-campus of Howard University with his one-man, largely Black, bookstore in the name of community service.

An illustration of Montu surrounded by books. (Illustration by Jabari Courtney)

On some days next to the Chipotle on Georgia Avenue, a tall, lean man stands in between his car and two folding tables lined with books of various genres and Black authors. Selling these books near Howard’s campus allows him to connect with Howard students and potentially sow a book or two into their lives. 

Montu, as he prefers to be called, is the 67-year-old owner of Your Community Bookstore Inc. and a man who believes that books are the way to gaining knowledge and that knowledge is power. 

“I’m a child of the ‘50s and the ‘60s and seeing the things that were going on back then, it inspired me because they had a lot of bookstores,” he said. “I can tell that society, in general, doesn’t want certain information out and we have to be responsible for it. We can’t expect anyone else to do it for us.”

He describes the work he does as “community service” and a way to give exposure to the Black community, traveling 45 minutes away from Maryland to sell books at Howard and George Washington University. “I just call this doing my part,” he said. “Nothing more than doing my part.”

Montu has no employees nor does he have a company website, as he prefers “hand-to-hand-combat,” as a way to interact and engage with the people who stop by to purchase a book. 

Montu speaking with a Howard student. Photo by Sariah Adams.

The graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey has sporadically sold books in this fashion since 1988, at a time “when a person could park on both sides of the street,” he said. 

With the changing layout of Georgia Avenue, the bookstore owner moved from outside of the Negril where he was first located, opting to move next to the Chipotle and said that it was due to a bus lane being put there. 

The move allowed him to be more proximate to Howard’s campus and provided the opportunity to engage more frequently with students. 

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“You have the students coming up here and I believe in trying to provide the students some balance…When someone comes by and they’re kind of caught off guard with the information, they comment on how they haven’t seen this much in one place,” he said.

“Mostly, I get a kick out of seeing a young person gravitate to certain books I wouldn’t expect them to,” Montu said. “A lot of philosophy and stuff like that…It’s rewarding because society doesn’t want us to learn anything.” 

Pictures of a few of the books Montu sells. (Photo by Sariah Adams)

Often Howard students have said they have seen his array of books as they passed by but rarely stopped to browse for numerous reasons, whether it is because of classes or their busy schedules. 

However, Mya Henderson, a sophomore health science major, noted that a certain book caught her eye which made her stop at the table on Wednesday evening. 

“I think something like this is important because we are a Black campus and these types of books focus mainly on an African-American perspective of things and a lot of Black power,” Henderson said. 

“A lot of books are getting banned and it’s getting harder to find books with this type of content,” Maya Sears, a junior strategic and legal communications major from Los Angeles, California, said. 

Sears noted the importance of having a business like Montu’s set up on Howard’s campus, expressing that it “allows students to look at a wide range of books about their people that [teachers] haven’t covered in class and dive deeper into a topic they touched upon.” 

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Montu usually sets up between 10:30 a.m. and packs up at 6:00 p.m. a few times throughout the week, weather permitting and doesn’t work on the weekends, opting to spend time with his son. 

In the future, he hopes to take his business mobile and doesn’t plan to discontinue book selling anytime soon.

Copy edited by Alana Matthew

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