In Defense of Nerds & In Praise of HPA

By Whitney WilsonDecember 9, 2010

Through grade school, college, and I’m learning even in life as an adult, it’s not always easy to find where you fit. We are all searching for a place to belong, a community of people who will accept us with our flaws and quirks. We have the privilege of living in an age where geography does not limit our search, and the Internet provides countless avenues of possibility.

This is something Carrie Goldman has been learning more and more over the last few weeks. Her seven year old daughter Katie is a huge Star Wars fan and proudly carried her Star Wars water bottle to school everyday until some of the other kids at school told her that Star Wars was only for boys, she told her mom in tears. Carrie shared Katie’s story on her blog and also her own thoughts about how these small suggestions from friends on the playground may be the seeds of bullying later in middle school and high school. She did not expect the kind of response she received. Katie has been showered with encouraging notes from all over the world to be herself and to embrace her love Star Wars. She’s even had people send her gifts to show their support. You can read more about Katie’s story here.

Tomorrow, December 10, Katie’s school will host a “Proud To Be Me Day” where they will wear something to represent what they are interested in, an opportunity to fly their nerd flag, whatever that flag may be. A fan of Katie’s story also created a Facebook event for people to wear Star Wars gear on the same day to support Katie, and Katie’s family requested that the participants donate Star Wars toys to charities for the holidays.

I feel the same way about books and reading as Katie feels about Star Wars and have been that way ever since I was a tiny girl. I realized it when I couldn’t stop reading the Boxcar Children series in second grade. Whenever I’m taking a break at work or out to lunch, anyone in the office will tell you that I could go on forever about the book I’m currently reading, the number I’m at for the year, or my favorite authors (John Green, FTW).

In my adventures back in time and in the future and to other worlds that sometimes look like ours but with special secrets, I eventually found The Boy Who Lived with his lightning bolt scar and tiny cupboard under the stairs. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has woven itself through our generation. Over the past few years, the hardcore fans connected with each other not only in person at school or work or at the bookstore, but also online at MuggleNet.com and The-Leaky-Cauldron.org.

In 2005, two HP fans created The Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) in an effort to lead the way in creating social change in our world, to take a message from a story and its heroes that impacted them so much and live it out. As a 501c3 nonprofit, The HPA’s mission statement says the organization “takes an outside-of-the-box approach to civic engagement by using parallels from the Harry Potter books to educate and mobilize young people across the world toward issues of literacy, equality, and human rights.”

They currently have a project right now called “Dementor Horcrux,” where participants use their creativity to create a hopeful message in the form of writing, photos, drawings, paintings, videos, and songs to inspire people who are struggling with depression, anxiety, and body image issues, people who may not know what hope looks like anymore. We want to say that we believe in the power of voices coming together to sing a chorus of hope, that we are thankful for people willing to be a part of that chorus. You can read more about the “Dementor Horcrux” project here.

Fandoms are about bringing people together, about connecting over a shared treasure. So maybe you don’t understand all the jokes or all the metaphors or the weird words someone made up for a story, but I hope you can appreciate the community that is built through loving the same thing. The HPA is doing just that—using community to fight against loneliness and pain and the lies we hear from the outside and the inside everyday. It may not be your thing, but it is someone’s thing just like Star Wars is Katie’s thing, and I hope you’ll support them in the ways they are working to spread hope and maybe even share some of your own. Most of all, I hope you find a place where you feel like you fit, a tribe to call your own, and an opportunity to connect with other people who love the same things you do. The search, I promise you, is worth it.

whitney

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