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Portrait: Phil Shapiro

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Phil Shapiro seems to delight not only in remaining a staunch supporter of free software ideals, but also in his role as a encourager and defender of people. "I see myself as more of a follwer than a leader," he says. But Shapiro really is a leader, the best kind: one that nurtures the gifts in others instead of promoting himself.

Shapiro is all about empowerment. He fell in love with helping others in the 1970s, when he began tutoring Harlem high school students. "I loved what I saw about outside-of-school learning," he says. "In-school learning is never going to equalize." He realized that when students had access to computer technology, they could learn more and do more. "The big turning point for me was when I read an article about a computer lab set up for the community to use for free. They didn't hire teachers; people were just teaching themselves. They didn't need fancy classes or to hire teachers. When I saw that, I said, 'That's what I'd like to do for the rest of my life."

Though Shapiro started his adult life as a law school student, he decided early on he'd rather be a teacher. "I went to law school more as a stepping stone to journalism. Failing the bar exam didn't help. I just wasn't cut out for law. I was cut out to be a lawyer when it was a tool for social change," he says. "Education is the tool for social change now."

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