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How Harry Potter is inspiring muggles to help from Haiti to Darfur

The magical Harry Potter movie franchise enters its concluding phase this week, but its impact is still growing. Its legacy: young activists motivated to find solutions to real-world problems.

By Staff writer / November 15, 2010

Actors Robbie Coltrane (l.) and Daniel Radcliffe are shown in a scene from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1. The Harry Potter movie is motivating young activists to find solutions to real-world problems.

Jaap Buitendijk/Warner Bros. Pictures/AP

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Los Angeles

“The boy who lived,” Hermione, Ron, Dobby, Dumbledore and the rest of J. K. Rowling’s magical characters launch their final film chapter this Friday with “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1.”

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But even as the Potter franchise begins its big screen fade to black, the impact of this alternately charming and cautionary wizarding world only grows. And not just in the customary fan sites spawned by many a great read.

Taking the moral lessons and emotional themes off the pages and into the real world, lovers of the gentle Albus Dumbledore’s wisdom and the hard-earned social awakenings of Hermione Granger have been inspired to address human needs, providing relief planes for Haiti and art supplies for orphans.

Henry Jenkins, a media scholar and cultural expert at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, says the phenomenon represents a new and more potent brand of online-enabled, participatory culture. He cites the Boston-based Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) as the most prominent organization to translate the moral lessons of the seven-part literary series into real world remedies.

“We are working to make the real world a little more magical and lot more just,” says Andrew Slack, executive director of HPA, a movement that boasts some 100,000 members around the world. A comedian and performer by trade, Mr. Slack founded HPA in 2005 as a means to channel the deep, emotional connection he saw in the generation that was coming-of-age with the Potter stories.

Young people are traditionally the hardest to motivate into real-world action, Slack says. But the boys and girls who cheered for Hermione when she stood up for the rights of tiny house elves, he adds, understand the stern warning from Hogwarts headmaster Dumbledore that the wizarding world will come to rue the indifference and neglect it has heaped upon the magical creatures, which are made to perform the lowest and dirtiest household chores, essentially as slaves.

“It’s not hard to make the leap into the real world from there,” says Slack, because the Potter generation is one that already cares about the environment and understands warnings about paying a future price for “the neglectful and indifferent behavior of today.”

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