Geeks to Watch Out for is our series on cool geeks making a difference in the world. In this post, we’re talking to Janae Phillips from the Granger Leadership Academy, a part of the Harry Potter Alliance.

GLA_roundCan you give us a short history of HPA and GLA?

Yeah! The Harry Potter Alliance was founded October 10th, 2005 (we’re going to Hogwarts this year!) and we turn fans into heroes. By drawing parallels between beloved stories and real world issues, we empower fans to change the world for the better; it’s a method we call “fan activism.” We have thousands of members and over 200 chapters around the world – literally, we’re in 35 countries. The Granger Leadership Academy is a leadership and activism conference for fan activists, whether they’ve been involved for years or are just starting to get involved, and 2017 marks its third year.

What is your favorite part of GLA? What would you tell someone you just met about why they should attend?

Every hero story has some kind of hero training – GLA is the one for our world. Now that she has a successful career in the Ministry, Hermione thought a lot about what could have helped her to be an even better leader earlier on. With the help of some friends (we don’t want to name drop, but when you have consultants like Garnet and Agent Carter we’ll allow it), she decided to found her very own hero training academy. The Academy needed to be operated in secret to protect it from dark forces, so the founders combined their magic and technology to create a powerful protection that only allows those with a worthy hero’s heart to see anything about it – good news, if you’re reading this your heart must be worthy! When she asked us to help her run it we couldn’t turn her down of course. Now the Academy appears in a new city every year – for safety, naturally – and invites leaders with all kinds of unique experiences to share their skills with the world’s next heroes. There does always seem to be some kind of imminent peril that the trainees get roped into fighting before the Academy is over…you know how these things go.

2016-07-11 11.55.39-2Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got involved with HPA and GLA?

Since everyone asks when you work for a Harry Potter themed job: Hufflepuff. I live in the wild west of Tucson, Arizona. I’m an engagement designer – which means I work to create meaningful experiences by drawing techniques from things like game design, playful learning, and storytelling – and I’m particularly interested in using engagement design to transform the way we approach leadership education and civic engagement. I started my own HPA chapter when I was in college, and was ecstatic to join full time staff as Chapters Director 2 years ago. I oversee our Chapters Program and our leadership education initiatives, which includes rad stuff like GLA!

When did you first realize you might be a geek?

I think that time I got virtually married in my Lord of the Rings RPG when I was 13 may have sealed the deal.

What are you most looking forward to about this year’s GLA?

Wow, if this isn’t the right moment for a whole weekend of training for how to fight the dark forces, I don’t know what is. I’m so excited to be surrounded by a group of incredible people ready to go out and fight back. Plus, we have an amazing line up of presenters and speakers – Emily Graslie of The Brain Scoop, Dylan Marron of Welcome to Night Vale and Seriously TV, and Dr. Adrienne Keene of Native Appropriations. Oh yeah, and we’re rounding it all out with a performance from Tonks and the Aurors.

What tips would you have for someone who is attending GLA for the first time?

Come with an open mind and an open heart. This is not a hands-off conference; think of it more like what would happen if you put camp and a conference together. It’s designed to be a transformative experience that will leave you with a better sense of yourself and feeling empowered to get out there and make change happen – but it can only do that if you invest in the experience. Don’t be nervous! GLA trainees are truly some of the kindest, most welcoming people you will ever meet. If you’re coming alone, I guarantee you’ll have at least 10 new friends by the time you leave.

How have you implemented what you’ve learned at GLA?

Activism isn’t easy – our work is on a long trajectory, and sometimes it’s easy to wonder if you’re really making an impact. I am incredibly inspired by the energy, ideas, and love I see at GLA, and it’s an enthusiasm for doing good that is a personal energy source for me for the rest of the year. GLA trainees remind me to be kinder, weirder in the best of ways, and to never give up the fight.

Author: Carolyn Noe

Carolyn is the Founder & Executive Director of Super Heroines, Etc. She is a recent transplant to Cincinnati and lives with her husband and her dog. She regularly nerds out about Parks & Rec, Firefly, and Pride & Prejudice.