Harry Potter Alliance Trains Leaders, Creates Community of Like-Minded Activists

For almost 15 years, The Harry Potter Alliance has used the power of the beloved series to help fans create a community of activists.

Left: Book donations during Accio Books—an annual campaign of the Harry Potter Alliance—helped Words Alive give 1,000s of books to kids and families in San Diego in 2016. Right: The HPA chapter Hedwig's Heroes in Derry, NH, which recently campaigned to get compostable straws and other environmentally-friendly measures in their district.
All photos courtsey of the Harry Potter Alliance

While a Catholic school in Nashville sticks to its ban on Harry Potter books—because the “actual curses and spells” in the text can conjure evil spirits—around the world, The Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) continues to use the beloved series as an impetus for good.

“I think all fan communities have their own levels of creativity and wanting to be together and do things together. But the Harry Potter books, in particular, have a really strong community of people who want to be creative and want to be doing good work in the world and want to come together to make a difference,” says Katie Bowers, HPA’s managing director, who will be a speaker at the SLJ Leadership Summit in Baltimore later this month.

The HPA is an organization that uses the power of J.K. Rowling's stories and characters to make activism accessible and sustainable and support fans who want to work toward a more equitable world.

“What we have always done is provide a springboard for people who are newer to activism to get involved, learn skills, and really make a difference,” says Bowers, who first got involved with HPA as a volunteer in 2013.

Founded in 2005, HPA started by working with Amnesty International to raise funds for survivors of the genocide in Darfur. The group has evolved to do far more than raising funds in response to tragedies. It is building community leaders and social activists, and Bowers cites the group's many significant achievements: From getting Warner Brothers to make all of its Harry Potter chocolate fair trade, to sending planeloads of cargo to help recovery in Haiti after the earthquake, and working with ACLU in Oregon last year to make 7,000 calls in one night about immigration measures on the ballot.

“I am not surprised by it anymore, but I am continually delighted by it,” she says of the success. “We have done some really big things over the years.”

Left: HPA senior staff and volunteers (left to right) Katie Bowers, Porshea Patterson, A.J. Solomon, Josh Anderson, Olivia Brown, Robyn Jordan of Black Girls Create, Janae Phillips, C.G. Matovina; Right: The HPA chapter in Bangalore, India, held a game night for Accio Books. The entry fee was “bring a book to donate.”

The HPA partners with the American Library Association, attending the annual conference to connect librarians to its programs, which includes leadership initiatives and online training. Last year, the organization started a program for schools and public libraries called “Hero Training," tailored to the group and its needs. It could be Fan Activism 101 or offering specific assistance with something in the community. The HPA also helps provide resources and support to its chapter organizations around the world. 

The first HPA chapters were created in 2008 and have not only made an impact, but have also developed leaders who continue the work for years. One of its first chapter leaders, who was 14 at the time, is now working for the ACLU and a member of the HPA Board.

While the HPA takes pride in being intergenerational, it also puts a focus on young people leading the way. Right now, the youngest chapter leader is 10 years old.

“She is who I communicate with, with the permission from her parents, of course,” says Bowers. “We value youth leadership and following youth leadership is very important to us. We don’t require you to have an advisor who’s the one making decisions or who’s communicating with the organization.… No one has a hard time following adults, so we make a point to do that same level of respect for young people who want to be leaders.”

Activism and social justice work takes its toll, however, and people of all ages can get burned out or discouraged by the process. A group like the HPA helps overcome those issues, Bowers says.

“There is so much passion around these books and around what this heroic story means to people—and that’s true for not just Harry Potter books, it’s true for a lot of heroic stories,” she says. “But I think we’re in a time right now where people feel it is very, very important to act and to be active and I think providing an avenue that feels hopeful and fun and connected to community is something folks really need to stick with it.… If it’s fun and it’s meaningful, I think people will stick with you for a long time and do some pretty magical things.”

Left: The HPA's Manila chapter, Pinoy Harry Potter, hosted a panel at 2017's Manila International Book Fair Fandom Fest, donating their honorarium to provide books for those displaced by the ongoing Battle of Marawi. Right: The Magical Illini Association chapter in Illinois hosted a Yule Ball and raised $4,000, which was donated in support of Syrian refugees.
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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (kyorio@mediasourceinc.com, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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