Hermione’s Party (Come Get It)

A look back at the Granger Leadership Academy

There are moments in the Harry Potter story when the tides turn: scrappy students pile into the Hog’s Head to take back their school, Professor McGonagall refuses to allow Professor Trelawney to be kicked out, Hermione Granger stares a condescending Minister of Magic down and bites out “I’m hoping to do some good in the world.”

It is these moments and the constants of friendship, community, and love — not the battles or the damage — that carry the heart of the wizarding world. Over the seven books, we learn that bravery and heroism are not made of power and victory, but of resilience and good will — of showing up and coming back to the everyday fight, time and time again, no matter the wreckage.

This is the same heroism at the heart of the Granger Leadership Academy.

The first weekend of March, just south of Providence, we held the second iteration of our unique fandom and leadership conference. Around a hundred and fifty wizard activists gathered in a hotel for a weekend of learning, community, and change.

Here’s a look back:


GLA in scattered moments

“[I] Was struck all weekend with how kind and supportive and respectful the atmosphere was at GLA and I think that moment is a perfect example of that feeling.” — Sara M.

After the wizard rock show, what had to be over half the conference huddled together for a group photo. As photographer Tyler Poole fidgeted with his camera, the group of us saw Matt Maggiacomo — the Harry Potter Alliance’s Executive Director — enter at the other end of the ballroom, carrying the newest addition to the community: his three-month-old child, Rory.

All at once, we excitedly beckoned them to join the photo and went from a roaring crowd to a collective whisper — as though we had all had the same impulse to mind the baby’s comfort and safety.

“I felt at home there. I was accepted and my views were respected. Learning was easy when everyone was so open to giving and receiving it. I have so many new resources, connections, and friends.”

“There was a moment when a bunch of us were in a hotel room, and at one point in a conversation my friend and I paused our conversation and said, ‘Wait, show of hands, who in here is queer?’ And literally everyone in the room except two people raised their hands. It was great. All of us who raised our hands were so happy to be in a room full of people like us” — Becky M.

We welcomed Snitchwiches — the peanut butter, Golden Graham, and honey wheat bread sandwich (sometimes shaped into the form of a golden snitch and thrown at people’s mouths; sometimes delivered to people’s hotel room after hours) invented by Joe and Paul DeGeorge — as the official food of the Granger Leadership Academy. In addition to broom service and catch-it-in-your-mouth fun times creating the sense of goofy community we’ve come to know and love at events around the world, Snitchwiches showed true GLA spirit with the Snitchwich Scholarship. Thanks to their generous donation, several local low-income students were able to attend the conference.

It comes as no surprise to that Snitchwiches were right at home at GLA. We ate the most snitchwiches per capita of any event they’ve served

“About half way through Olivia and Maggie’s putting fandom on your resume panel I realized that not only have I contributed more to fandom than I had thought, but those things really were building important skills that are valuable and marketable.” — Maddy I.

One group held a demonstration for library advocacy on Sunday morning.
“I’m not sure if it was planned this way or not, but my team was a really cool mix of people from totally different places, backgrounds, life stages, etc. and I loved that we got along so well and could have really meaningful conversations, despite only knowing each other for a day or two. At most cons I just hang out with friends I already know, so this pushed me out of my comfort zone in the best way.” — Maddie F.

Our three keynote speakers — Jackson Bird, Swapna Krishna, and Meghan Tonjes — delivered moving, honest, altogether brilliant speeches about their stories and the hero’s journey.

“Jackson Bird’s keynote hit me. I was crying happy tears at table 10 all the way in the back of the room. I kept thinking ‘I’m not alone,’ over and over as he continued.” — Anna N.

In the HPA offices, we’ve spent the week since GLA sending each other dispatches from emails and Facebook groups and word of mouth, news of what GLA alumni are already doing with all that magic. We’re so happy, so proud, so in awe of how everyone took what they learned and ran with it.

Each Thursday, our staff participates in an email thread sharing updates about their week (in both the HPA and their “muggle” lives). One section of this is called the Snap Jar, where staffers submit shoutouts to each other. This week, the first one back from GLA, there were so many that the email thread’s subject line heralded it as “The Snappening.”

While I wasn’t at the first Granger Leadership Academy in Alabama two years ago, I heard so much about one moment that I both felt like I had been there and found myself wishing I could track down a timeturner. After Tonks and the Aurors finished their set, attendees trickled out of the ensuing dance party into the hallway where an impromptu discussion on activism was taking place. This one story seemed to contain everything there was to know about GLA: the urgency people felt around making the world a better place, the way people began the weekend as strangers but emerged from it as a world-saving team, the determination to make the most of every moment.

This time around, the whole weekend felt like that. Nuanced, big-picture conversations were everywhere. Ideas were set into motion moments after being sparked into existence.

At the same time, urgency and big ideas did not mean a cutthroat environment. GLA threw away any notion that leadership conferences — or leadership period, for that matter — has to involve climbing ladders or knocking others down. Instead, this was a place of brave vulnerability, of deliberate compassion, of radical kindness.

So often, cons can end up being very performative experiences. Even in spaces where we feel at home in a community and encouraged to wear our enthusiastic fan hearts on our sleeves, it’s not unusual to come up against pressure to act a particular way, to be perfectly put together despite the physically and emotionally exhausting nature of these events, to be disappointed in ourselves for cracking even slightly under all of this.

GLA turned this on its head with an emphasis on self-care and active encouragement to care for oneself and for others without pretense or hesitation.

I am a predictable person. Many of my very favorite moments were at the wizard rock shows where Lauren Fairweather and Tonks and the Aurors made us feel like we weren’t wrong, we weren’t alone, and we could take on the world just as we were, losing none of our bright-eyed kindness, enthusiasm, and conviction.

I know I’m not alone when I say that I owe a great deal of the best parts of my life and of myself to this community — to watching it from afar growing up and being in the thick of it now. I feel like I’m always getting Hogwarts letters. At GLA, I saw eleven-year-old kids getting to not only participate in our little world, but lead it, too. They raised their hands first at panels (think Hermione in Sorcerer’s Stone), contributed to discussions with compassion and complexity, danced the hardest at the wizard rock show. Listening to wizard rock on blocky Compaq monitors’ built-in speakers and bright purple CD players informed so much of what I am today. So seeing kids half my age jumping to It’s Real For Us and fist-pumping to Yes All Witches put me in two wonderful places at once: 1) the happy you-get-to-experience-this-for-the-first-time-or-close-to-it jealousy you feel when a person holds your favorite book in their hand for the first time and 2) the awestruck realization that in so many ways, they’re already miles ahead of me — of all of us — and I’d have it no other way.

The magic of GLA is that the tools it gave its attendees don’t stop working when they leave Hogwarts. They can be — are meant to be — applied where they live, whether that means their chapter or their neighborhood or the summer con circuit. Many attendees dove into brave new projects within days of heading back to their stomping grounds.

The Granger Leadership Academy was not perfect. Our community is not perfect. No one person — no creator and no fan — here is perfect. But neither was Hogwarts; neither was Dumbledore’s Army; neither was Hermione. Here, we did not hide any of this. We faced our weaknesses as things to overcome.

Like the keynote speeches, GLA was designed around the hero’s journey and narrative leadership, which begin with a call to adventure and end with epic love: “True heroes act out of love, and acts of epic love are those that transcend individual needs in order to protect all people. When leaders come together to enact positive social change from such a place of love, that is our world’s brand of magic.”

What I saw everywhere at GLA was every part of that and what I’ve known on a personal scale in my years volunteering and working for the HPA: when you find a place where you are encouraged to grow, not seen as liable for your imperfections, and told your quirks and enthusiasms are your strengths instead of your downfalls, there are no limits to what you can accomplish.

When you stumble into a community that prioritizes safety and knows the power of story, you’re told you can be a hero. You’re told you already are.

You can learn more about GLA 2017 by signing up to our mailing list.