Hilari Younger on bringing homegrown Kwanzaa traditions into her modern rituals.
– KEYS SOULCARE
Style expert and people connector Hilari Younger is known for throwing events filled with unexpectedly deep convos and unforgettable memories. Just one example? The Kwanzaa events she’s hosted in her D.C.-area home each year since college — and in Howard University apartments before that.
For many, Hilari’s gatherings are a first taste of the December-to-January holiday, which was created by California academic Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966 as a celebration of the ideals upholding African-American values of “Umoja” (unity), “Kujichagulia” (self-determination), “Ujima” (collective work and responsibility), “Ujamaa” (cooperative economics), “Nia” (purpose), “Kuumba” (creativity), and “Imani” (Faith) generations before Kwanzaa was formally established.
For Younger, the events run deeper: they’re an extension of her south Texas upbringing, in which self-identity and holding space for one’s community were as non-negotiable as learning one’s ABC’s. Here’s our chat about the traditions-turned-rituals she’s committed to sharing with others everyday of the year.
So many of us have heard of Kwanzaa as grown-ups. But you grew up steeped in it, right?
I grew up in what some call a “conscious community.” People think of Black Dallas as an intimate space — which it is — but it’s also super diverse within that intimacy, too. I have a mentor who was the director of the South Dallas Cultural Center (she is like a mom to me) and church “parents” who are also directors of the African American Museum there. So I always celebrated Kwanzaa.
I grew up with rights of passage, affirming lessons and language, bundles… all of that! Candles are such a modernly popular ritual. I grew up lighting candles on a [Kwanzaa] Kinara, which embodies the idea of “umoja” or unity. There’s an intention behind it that I’ve always carried with me; this powerful idea that all Black people are truly welcome in a space has extended to all people being welcome within my celebrations.
For those that didn’t grow up with your background, what else has Kwanzaa always signified for you?
It’s a Black American celebration—for Black American people, descendants of enslaved people. It’s something that is fairly young, just like our culture—less than 60 years old. It was created because so many other things in this culture have taught us to hate, dismiss, and not embrace ourselves.
The beautiful thing about Kwanzaa, for me, is that it encourages and promotes self-love and self-awareness. It promotes our legacy and our dynasty as a Black people in America. Kwanzaa is “that moment” where you acknowledge, listen, and know that while we will come up against so much adversity, we are still going to unify, have purpose, be collective, create, and work with purpose.
Wow. That’s such a universally beautiful idea.
Exactly. They apply to us all because they apply to life. I’ll give you an example. I’m a mom. I wake up everyday and those principles are what get me through a whole day. They are affirming. They help me get through those long to-do lists that feel like they’ll go on forever. They call me to stop, reflect, acknowledge and give myself credit, and then keep it moving. We all get tired! But if you do that, too, that’s practicing“Kujichagulia,” or self-determination. If you find a sense of purpose in it, that’s “Nia.” And so on.
Every year, [celebrating Kwanzaa] provides that cycle to see how we’ve grown, affirm ourselves, and put intention into the seasons ahead.
Can you share more about the gatherings you host?
Just before the pandemic, I hosted one where I announced that I was pregnant to close and new friends. We took lanterns into the street, [inscribed with] our intentions and challenges. And we released our pain into a single fire so we could just hold onto our joys and hopes. There were children, parents, and friends there together, all releasing this light into the sky. There wasn’t a dry eye.
But every year, there will always be a few things for sure. It’s a safe space and a comfy one, too. (Because safe means you can be unharmed. But, comfy means you can stay forever.) Shoes off. I’m going to feed you…and keep feeding you. And, just when you start to get content, I serve tea and we create intentions together.
What advice would you give to someone looking to celebrate Kwanzaa rituals for the first time, maybe even on a smaller scale?
A gathering is always a great idea. Pick an intention, [one] of the Kwanzaa principles, and a small ritual for everyone to share. Just think of one that embodies what you want to incorporate into your daily life, your family relationships, or just your year ahead. Light that candle and remind yourself of that purpose. And repeat it again and again.
And remember that this isn’t something extra: it’s just the same self-care that so many others are practicing, and it’s been here for decades. It’s good for us all to have that ladder and that feeling of elevating ourselves and those around us, right?
What’s your highest vision for Kwanzaa traditions you’re creating?
I’ve always felt like Kwanzaa has always been something that was going to come back full circle as a mission and a purpose in my life. I was born during Kwanzaa. My birthday is December 31st, which is “Kumbaa”, the Kwanzaa day of creativity.
Kwanzaa is an internal map and honor code for building and expanding the Black American footprint and dynasty [amidst] so much encouragement of self-hatred, assimilation, and appropriation of our culture.
It’s a practice that counteracts the desire for Black people to ignore the facts about who we are and how great we are. That remains my biggest desire for Kwanzaa. And I’m excited because while I grew up celebrating it as a child, it’s everywhere [now]. It’s America.
[I believe] we will continue to hold out hope and we will continue to do our part. We’re not gonna all be monolithic and have the exact same thoughts, but this is the space where we do unite and have a common purpose. We’re dope, and that’s so beautiful!
What childhood and communal traditions inspire everyday rituals in your life? Share them in the comments!