Charles Canario works at the James Baldwin School as a college coach and is an educator and a digital equity advocate. As a young mentor and facilitator, Charles is a leader within Hive NYC, where he has worked closely with staff to lead online privacy and web literacy activities at community events throughout the city. Charles has also contributed collaboratively on a new online privacy curriculum that is being developed specifically towards communities that aren’t always reached in the technology field, such as immigrant and undocumented communities, youth of color, and young people from under-resourced schools.
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Tell me a bit about your work — specifically how you got involved with Mozilla through your work at Global Action Project. Maybe start with a broad overview and then highlight any specific projects or moments that kind of have stood out for you.
My work started out with Global Action Project as a youth producer making social justice media. I worked on PSAs and short videos on a variety of topics. GAP has multiple programs where youth idents — group around an identifying trait, like being youth in a city, or being immigrant youth, or being LGBTQ. I jumped around from program to program, made lots of different videos, and then I progressed to being a youth facilitator, where they taught me the skills to facilitate workshops and lead group activities.
When GAP joined the New York City Hive network, I started work on a program called the Media History Timeline. This project is essentially how I first got involved with Mozilla. The Media History Timeline is an attempt to make a timeline program that unites both the history and media — newspaper reports, events that are happen and are recorded with people’s personal experiences of events and how they perceive events to happen, and how those two relate and interconnect and help each other develop. From there, I did work with the New York City group on facilitating workshops around privacy — access to privacy and privacy of knowledge. Then after a few of those, we started working on curriculum for those same topics.
What do you do in your current daily life? What are you working on? Like personal projects, official job, anything you want to add?
Personal projects, just I’ve definitely started making more personal media. I’ve found that I was making lots of topic-based media and like videos and stuff, but I never really took a step back to take pictures and make videos of my own. That’s currently what I’m working on.
Cool. Can you tell me about a time when you felt a sense of success in your work?
Personally, my most valuable successes come when I get the chance to teach someone about a topic they never have thought about or help them think about a topic in a new way they never have before.
The Media History Timeline program, which GAP was working with Mozilla to create, started out as a physical workshop, like an actual giant paper timeline with events and stuff. The first time I facilitated anything outside of prep or an internal review was at the Allied Media Conference in Detroit. It was my first big success in my work, because it was the first time I led an activity in front of an actual group of people — it’s essentially what started my facilitation work.
Cool. What about an example of a challenge? Especially one that you’ve persistently faced maybe.
I think the hardest challenge, for the most part, is making things accessible. When you’re doing this work, it’s super easy to get caught up in technical terms and vast concepts. I want to make sure all people can understand what we’re saying. Not everyone has the same background. For instance, I’m a first-gen — my parents are immigrants. In the areas where I live, people predominantly speak Spanish. I want to make sure all these topics are accessible so people understand. For those who primarily speak Spanish, it is a bit more difficult. Translation isn’t always one-for-one, so you need to figure out how to make sure they understand and can make sense of it all.
How have you approached addressing this challenge?
When we first started doing the privacy work, we had a very diverse group of people. It’s one of the best ways to address the challenge of accessibility — having a diverse group of people to work with. You might not see something as difficult, but another member who has a different experience with different groups of people will see it as one — that it won’t work for their group of people. Working with a wide range of people with different backgrounds greatly helps address this challenge.
That’s great. Do you have a moment, a specific moment to share about when that’s happened?
It was during our first workshop in Queens for the city council event. We got our group together — it was a primarily Spanish-speaking group. While Spanish is my first language, it’s not one that I usually partake in — I use it, I speak it at home, but not in a professional setting. I find it difficult to explain concepts, because it’s not how I think. When I think of concepts, I process them in English. Translating those thoughts and concepts into Spanish doesn’t always work. Armando, who was part of our group and can better articulate things in Spanish, was able to facilitate that workshop well.
That was a really great example of collaborating. Even though on paper you may have had the same skills, it plays out differently depending on the context.
Shifting more towards Mozilla, what does a healthy internet mean for you?
The internet’s primary use is communication — it makes the huge world a lot smaller. A healthy internet has to be a place where communication is possible and accessible for anyone. There shouldn’t be filters — people should be able to communicate with anyone. Arab Spring is an example of how people were able to communicate with the rest of the world — social media became a huge way for people to get information out and for people to know what was happening on the ground. People with malicious intent should not be able to blockade other people from communicating or accessing the information they need.
I totally agree with you. What does working open mean to you?
Working open is about working with groups of people and always being able to take feedback and develop things so that other people can understand them. You should always be prepared for new people to come in and for the people who are currently working on it to step out when they need to. Working open is about building a framework that allows for interchangeability — where projects can keep moving forward.
Is there a moment that you can think of where working open has had an impact for you?
I worked for a year and a half at the high school I graduated from as a college counselor. We called it a future’s advisor, because sometimes your path isn’t always college. In our office, people would come in and not always fit in — the work we were doing at that moment wasn’t always right for them. We worked extra hard to make sure that they felt comfortable in the space, to be like maybe this isn’t what we should be focusing on, and being aware that other people transition. Sometimes additional counselors would come in or sometimes counselors would leave. We had to culture the environment in our office where that functioned and moved forward, and people felt like they could always get what they needed from it.
That’s great. What about in any of the organizing work you’ve been a part of? Do you have any examples of where working open — or for organizations or communities or people who have not been practicing an open, working open ethos, how has that impacted the work?
At GAP, which primarily makes videos, all the videos are youth-produced. The group of people working on a video was always changing. The smallest group I’ve ever made a film with was four core people, but it could range from four to 20 or so people. It’s nearly impossible, with a group with that many teenagers every week, to coordinate everyone being there at the same time. Sometimes people wouldn’t show up or they’d be MIA for a few weeks. But the projects would continue, and whenever that person came back to the group, it would always feel like they had never gone — there was always a place for them to participate and contribute to the work.
Oh, that’s great. I guess you kind of answered this question a little bit, but to expand a little bit more, how did you get involved with Mozilla, so I know we already heard that, but how is it impacted your work, and what has the experience been like for you?
Mozilla has impacted me in the way that I work. As a filmmaker, my view of the work was, there is a camera, you make a video. I never really thought to what other ways you could interact with media. I didn’t feel like websites and things like that were my thing — but when I started to work with Mozilla, they brought me, another youth producer, and some of the GAP staff to MozFest in London in 2012. I got to see all the other amazing projects that other people had been working on. I got to go to all these workshops and listen to how technical knowledge could help me advance my skills in media and social justice work. Mozilla expanded what I had considered social justice work and internet privacy issues. Working with Mozilla opened my eyes to the critical issues affecting our communities that I had never thought of.
Do you remember any projects in particular that stood out for you? Even though that feels like a really long time ago now.
There was a guy who couldn’t have been much older than me, I was 18 at the time, who had created a program to make a maze game. He built it with physical tiles that had the coding instructions on the back of them. There was a camera under the tiles that would read them, and a program would then order them and digitally code them into an computer maze game. That really got to me, because — it made coding accessible. It helps people who learn in a more hands-on way. I’m a very hands-on person — I like working on things with my hands. I had never thought of coding could be thought of or function that way — instead of having my brain adapt code, adapt code to how my brain works. It made code accessible for people who think like that.
Yeah. That’s awesome. That’s exactly what, especially with the educators we work with, we try to do. Another question — is there a time when Mozilla has disappointed you? If so, what feedback would you give?
Disappointed me? I was upset I couldn’t get all the badges at MozFest. I think that was the only time. There hasn’t really been. I feel like whenever I work with Mozilla, I’m always expanding what I know. I’ve never reached the point where I’m like there is nothing I’m gaining from this situation. When I went to Emoticon for Mozilla, I was amazed by all the other work that was there from all the other groups. I’ve never had a moment where I was disappointed, because I always feel like I’m learning something new.
That’s good to hear. I hope it stays that way. If you had access to ten skilled volunteer collaborators or contributors, what would their skills be, and what would you ask them to do?
I’ve currently been doing lots of photography, like pictures and stuff. Probably something like photo-related, where turning photos into something cool, but I don’t know what specifically I would do. I feel like once you get enough people with a vast set of groups to work on something and just sit together and brainstorm, lots of cool stuff could happen.
If we could continue the privacy curriculum, that would be cool. Create more.
Do you have a vision for the world that you’d like to live in, if it’s not the current one?
Currently, I feel like there’s two very separate ways of thinking. Technology is its own personal bubble, and then other things don’t really match — you never think of nature and technology together. For some reason, those are two very separate concepts, but I feel like there’s lots of ways you could join them together. I think there’s lots of ways we can combine technology with unseemingly different things. When Pokémon GO was a thing, lots of people who normally wouldn’t be outside or interact with other groups of people suddenly became very interested in doing just that — they were always outside and met tons of people. When technology and other outside resources fuse together, there’s amazing possibilities. I think in the future I would like to see, I would like to see technology born that doesn’t require you to be inside. I’d like to see technology that helps serve the purpose of what it currently does, but also helps people make connections in a positive manner.