“We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already. We have the power to imagine better.” “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling spoke these words at her Harvard University Commencement Address in 2008. Andrew Slack, Career Week speaker and founder of the nonprofit organization, the Harry Potter Alliance, also seems to live by these words.
Since it was founded in 2005, the HPA has helped raise relief and money to disaster areas such as Haiti, and has also donated almost 90,000 books around the world.
During his speech on Thursday, October 18th, in the SMC MPR, Slack says the key to his success can be summed up with three words that start with P: Pizzazz, patience, and persistence.
“The secret to pizzazz is to see the world in a wondrous way and allow life to be remarkable,” Slack notes. He recalls how he was raised in a Jewish household with parents who instilled in him a love for rap music and holidays and encouraged him to be his own person. In elementary school, he even wrote a rap about the dangers of pollution, which was later done by his class for Earth Day. In the sixth grade, he ran for student counsel and wrote another rap, only to lose to the girl he had a crush on.
He ran for student counsel again in middle school, and after an unsuccessful attempt to write a catchy speech, his mother urged him to “do a rap.”
With that, Slack wrote a rap to say why he should be president of student counsel and when he performed it to his school, the audience burst into applause. “I became president of a school who hated me,” he joked. He was also able to become student counsel president in junior high school and high school as well because he was finally able to “own his pizzazz.”
Slack went to college where he studied comedy, traveled abroad in Ireland, and went on to join a comedy group after college. He also had a few side projects, such a creating website that went nowhere, and interviewing random people in the places the comedy group toured to. He says that he once held an unexpectedly long and interesting interview with a janitor in Carnegie Hall about how he would help end world poverty. “People will talk if you just ask questions,” Slack tells the audience.
It was around this time where Slack was first introduced to the “Harry Potter” book series. Within the first chapter of the first book, he felt as though his life changed, and he suddenly wanted to make a difference in the world. He also noticed that from the first book, Harry’s life was never the same, even with magic. Things in his life change, and by the time he turns fifteen years old, he feels shunned by his school, his friends, and the rest of the wizarding world. When Harry loses his godfather and the closest thing he ever had a real father, Sirius Black, Luna Lovegood became “the moon in the dark night” that supported him. Slack says that he wanted to be like a moon in the dark for the world, and create a Dumbledore’s Army for the real world.
Through a lot of trial and error, such as a few more failed website ideas, Slack says he was able to gain patience and persistence while trying to realize his dreams. “I already had a lot of pizzazz, but no patience,” he says. “All those failures helped me have more patience with my dreams, as well as persistence to not give up on them.” He also notes that another word that starts with P played a big role in his success: participation.
He became involved with the band Harry and the Potters, which allowed him to be surrounded by different ideas other than his own, and form relationships with other Harry Potter fansites through other Harry Potter bands. “Turns out, many other people had always wanted to be part of a Dumbledore’s Army in the real world,” Slack says. With that, the Harry Potter Alliance was founded in 2005.
The HPA’s biggest success story came in 2010 after the devastating earthquake in Haiti. They were able to bring other fan communities such as “The Hunger Games” and “True Blood” together to help donate to the victims of the earthquake. They raised $123,000 in just 2 weeks and sent cargo planes carrying medical supplies to the victims.
Slack remembers the planes carrying the supplies were each named after characters in the “Harry Potter” series. “That was a reminder that fantasy is not just an escape from the real world; it helps create a better reality for the real world,” he says. “It gives you the ability to imagine better, and to take losses and make something wonderful out of them.”
Along with being an eloquent speaker, Slack is very funny, down-to-earth and insightful about politics, theology, and world cultures and issues. He has an infectious personality and a story that goes to show that a childhood memory can make for a successful career and make a difference in the world.
Are you interested in a chapter here at MU? Keep an eye out – the Millersville Chapter of the HPA is currently in the works!