Andrew Slack '02 teams up with Harry Potter to change the world

He's created The Harry Potter Alliance to engage fans in social activism

Andrew Slack '02

In the mind of Andrew Slack '02, Albus Dumbledore, the Hogwarts headmaster made famous through the Harry Potter books, lives — or at least his lessons do. That's why Slack has taken Dumbledore's ultimate message — that love is the most powerful form of magic — and is using it to conquer problems in the “muggle,” or nonmagical, world.

As co-founder and executive director of The Harry Potter Alliance (HPA), Slack is using new media like Twitter to turn thousands of fans into social activists, addressing issues from poverty to the genocide in Darfur to global warming.

Slack likens the inspirational power of Dumbledore to such real-life figures as Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. This thinking is a drastic transformation for someone who originally dismissed the Harry Potter books as a pop-culture fad. It wasn’t until after he graduated from Brandeis and was encouraged by a group of kids he was working with to read the books, that he finally gave in and entered author J.K. Rowling's world. What he found there reminded him a lot of his college community.

“It was not easy to graduate from a campus that I had come to call home — where the student body and faculty had become like family — and where I was consistently challenged to find outside-the-box approaches to bettering the world,” Slack told BrandeisNOW. “Leaving a place like Brandeis was equivalent to leaving a magical community. I found something similar to Brandeis in Hogwarts.”

Today, Slack has created his own magical community. He says the Harry Potter Alliance, with more than 30 active chapters worldwide, galvanizes more than 100,000 like-minded fans. Together, among other initiatives, they have raised more than $15,000 to help protect civilians in Darfur, distributed more than 4,000 books to a youth village in Rwanda and started a workers’ rights campaign to promote Fair Trade chocolate.

Now, with the recent release of the sixth Harry Potter film, "The Half-Blood Prince," the HPA is also taking its mission into theaters as a way to reach the wider public. When the movie opened earlier this month, members wore nametags that displayed a lesson Dumbledore had taught them. They also handed out blank nametags for other people in line to fill out. In addition, fans were encouraged to spread the message via Twitter as they entered the theater; according to Slack, more than 12,000 of the Dumbledore-inspired tweets were sent in a nine-hour period.

The HPA’s efforts have been generating a spell of media attention, as, the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek have all published articles on the group. You can also read Slack's take in The Huffington Post.

Even more impressive, though, is the praise the Harry Potter Alliance has received from the person who knows Dumbledore best: J.K. Rowling herself. In bestowing the HPA with the fan site award, Rowling said she was “honored and humbled that Harry's name has been given to such an extraordinary campaign, which really does exemplify the values for which Dumbledore's Army fought in the books. To Andrew and all the others who work on this most inspirational Web site: the world needs more people like you.”

That's a magical message, indeed, but Slack says he wouldn't have been able to create such a successful grassroots campaign without the guidance of some of his Brandeis professors.

David Cunningham taught me how to study social movements and to understand the importance of coalition building, which is central to the Harry Potter Alliance," Slack says, "and another of my mentors, Maury Stein, advocated that literature is more than just escapism; it points to certain truths that have the power to renew our spirits, and in turn, renew the entire world. This is one of the most cutting edge things about the Harry Potter Alliance: yes, we're unusual because we use Harry Potter as a vehicle for activism, but even more so, it's unusual because we believe that each individual, in tapping into the magic of their creativity, has the ability to change themselves and the world.”

To learn more about the Harry Potter Alliance, visit the HPA's Web site.

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