The Granger Leadership Academy in St. Louis: Part I

Ah, the Granger Leadership Academy. Where best to begin? At the beginning, I suppose. The very beginning.

I first attended the Granger Leadership Academy (GLA) in March 2016 after Jackson Bird, Director of Wizard-Muggle Relations of the Harry Potter Alliance, mentioned it to me at the Harry Potter Conference in Chestnut Hill in October 2015. I had approached the Harry Potter Alliance table at a Harry and the Potters show because I wanted to introduce myself and had just gotten involved in the NYC chapter of the HPA, the NYDA. In December 2015, I became the Chapter Organizer for the NYDA and an active and adoring member of the Harry Potter Alliance. So I figured I'd check out this GLA thing. It was inexpensive and in Providence RI, which I could reach on the train (I will take any excuse to get on a train). I asked for 1.5 days off work and off I went.

Well, it was magical. I was deathly ill the entire weekend and still had the time of my life. I learned SO MUCH and met so many awesome people and finally began to own my label of SJW (Social Justice Wizard).

I attended eight workshops:

  • Wit & Bravery, Ambition & Loyalty: Finding Your Values with Paula Neiweem and Heather Murray, which, among other things, gave me the idea for my "10 Things" list in my Humblebrag workshop
  • Being Your Own Hero with Sam Ducharme and Emma Hollier, where I got a much-needed introduction to self care (obviously necessary since, as previously stated, I was deathly ill for the conference from weeks of burnout)
  • Turning  Sign-ups Into Squads with Janae Phillips, which helped me in my struggle to find (and retain!) NYDA members
  • Once More with Logic Models: Campaign Planning for Vampire Slaying Success with Anna Dardick, which is where the NYDA's major 2016 campaign - #dontthrowawayyourvote - was born
  • Transgender Advocacy with Jackson Bird who gave us a crash course in trans terminology, pronouns, gender dysphoria, transition, and sex vs. gender
  • From Charity to Change with Becca Simpson who explained how we can take our philanthropic energies and enact actual change
  • Narrative Placemaking in Clubs and Classrooms with Nia DeCoux who helped us discover how, as leaders, we can put diversity and representation at the forefront of our approaches
  • Showing Up For Racial Justice with SURJ where we learned how to recruit and engage white people in racial justice efforts (my first step into active allyship)

We heard keynotes from Jackson Bird about his transition journey, Swapna Krishna about representation, and Meghan Tonjes about body positivity. We watched Girl Rising about breaking the circle of poverty by ensuring that girls are educated worldwide. I learned the term "three before me", which I try my hardest to use in group conversations - three other people have to talk before you talk again. I sketched out my "hero identity": that I stand up for others, that I am strong, and that I am always learning. I made a commitment to myself:

I want to have an active chapter with members who feel like they are important and making a difference. I believe that the Harry Potter Alliance deserves the respect to be discussed without embarrassment. I am committed to making change that you can see that ripples so strongly that its impact extends beyond my vision.

By the end of that weekend, I knew I wanted to not only attend GLA 2017, but I wanted to run a workshop. So I did.

[caption id="attachment_470" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Super happy I got a shirt this year![/caption]

On Wednesday 3/8 I took my tush up to LaGuardia for my flight to St. Louis. GLA didn't begin until 4pm Thursday, but I added an extra day onto my trip to schedule a reading for my IT WILL SET YOU FREE book tour. I don't love the airport nonsense part of flying but I love to travel, so this trip was ideal: an empty airport (how???), a tupperware full of avocado on toast, and a vacant seat next to me so I could spread out all of my work on the plane.

[caption id="attachment_481" align="alignnone" width="2447"] Packing list: 10-year-old backpack, bullet journal, IT WILL SET YOU FREE, ON BEAUTY by Zadie Smith, workshop for GLA, possibly underwear.[/caption]

As an added bonus, the HPA put out a bunch of posts on social media recognizing some of the women who volunteer for the HPA and/or who were taking the day off of work to travel to GLA on International Women's Day. Katie, the Campaigns Director, asked if they could post about me. I was super flattered and pleased to see my post go up as I was waiting for the train to leave for downtown St. Louis from the airport. Definitely gave me the warm fuzzies!

[caption id="attachment_477" align="aligncenter" width="529"] Me w/ Scout the hedgehog[/caption]

Upon arriving downtown, I met my college roommate Chris for lunch at Porano Pasta, which was super yum (Negroni slushies were a great way to kick off the long weekend). Afterward, he gave me a quick walking tour of downtown St. Louis, including the Arch, which is the only thing I remember about St. Louis from the last time I was there (we went up in it and it swayed in the wind and that felt weird so we went back down). It was nice to have an extra pair of hands to get a snap of IT WILL SET YOU FREE!

[caption id="attachment_480" align="alignnone" width="2448"] IWSYF in STL[/caption]

After a while I decided it was probably time to head down to The Loop, drop my stuff off at my friend Jessie's house (one of my many great friends from GLA 2016), and get ready for my reading at Subterranean Books. The bookstore was adorable - they had a STORE DOG - and a small but enthusiastic crowd gathered in the loft to hear local author Debbie Manber Kupfer and me read from our novels.

[caption id="attachment_495" align="aligncenter" width="2447"] IWSYF's first time in a bookstore![/caption]

Afterward, we were starving so Jessie, Debbie, and I headed to Three Kings Pub for food and (v. necessary) beer and then Jessie and I headed home to get a good night's sleep.

On Thursday 3/9 I had a conference call for work in the morning and then Jessie and I went to the zoo for a bit. The St. Louis Zoo is free, which is amazing, and located just down the road from the St. Louis Art Museum in Forest Park. I wish we could have spent more time there, but on our quick visit we saw African painted dogs (which I love), hyenas, dwarf mongoose, and hippos (which I had never seen swim before - they were very graceful!).

[caption id="attachment_475" align="alignnone" width="2448"] Beautiful, terrifying monsters[/caption]

Then it was off to GLA! I headed there just before registration for a presenters orientation where Janae, the Chapters Director of the HPA and the conductor and creator of GLA, gave us a rundown of the rooms and an overview of how the weekend would go down. Then it was time for check-in and to meet our table! GLA attendees are split into groups that work together over the weekend, sit together for morning meetings, and share experiences about programming during breaks so no one misses anything. GLA has tons of great programming and it's almost impossible to choose between workshops. They each fall into different categories: Personal Leadership, Communication, Teamwork, Quests, and World Changing, although there is obviously tons of overlap with the topics covered. I wanted to go to every single one, but could only choose six (+ mine). If only timeturners were real!

One of my goals of GLA was to track down anyone from NYC who wasn't already active an member of the NYDA and invite (harrass) them to join us! I had MJ Bradley on my list and, as luck would have it, we were in the same group and sat next to each other for the welcome feast! After dinner, she invited me up to her room to meet her friend Rachel and hang out. As is the case with most HPA folks, we were fast friends. You can't escape me, MJ!

To close out the night, we headed back down to the ballroom for a wizard wrock concert where Tonks and the Aurors serenaded us with her Springsteen-esque anthems, clever raps, and general wrocking goodness. And she played Charlie Weasley, which is my fave and gets stuck in my head like once a week.


Pumped for the weekend, Jessie and I met up with our friends Grace and Amanda (who were also staying with Jessie), hit up the grocery store to stock up for the weekend, and headed home to prepare for the FIRST FULL DAY OF GLA! (up next...)


Caitlin Harper