Teaching Photography & Advocacy to D.C. Youth

by Critical Exposure
Malik speaking at an exhibit opening
Malik speaking at an exhibit opening

You might know Malik…

Maybe you’ve seen his powerful photographs documenting challenges D.C. youth face, heard him testify at City Council hearings in support of arts education and effective school discipline policies, watched him speak to a room of over 300 adults, or facilitate Critical Exposure classes for other D.C. youth.

But you might not recognize Malik if you’d known him in 2010…

Before he had a way to cope with the loss of his brother; Before his sister saw one of our fliers and dragged him to our door; Before he knew he had a voice; Before he embodied youth leadership; Before Critical Exposure.

Malik’s transformation illustrates the power of Critical Exposure’s approach.

“I felt I had a voice that mattered. I used untapped capabilities while being appreciated for them. I think more programs like Critical Exposure should exist where young people have avenues to begin to experience their own power, to work together to make change in their world. Critical Exposure was essential to me becoming the person I am today.” 

Malik is one of 1,800 students who’ve learned how to use photography and advocacy skills to become civic leaders, and that they have the right and ability to fight for solutions to the problems they face. In fact, 85% of youth who complete one of our programs believe that by working together they can transform their community.

And that’s impressive. In Washington, D.C., only 11% of people with college degrees join civic or service organizations. With a high school degree or less, that drops to 1%. There are lots of explanations, but one big reason is that people don’t think they can make a difference.

Imagine what could happen if 85% of people believed that they could transform their community by working together.

Help give more young people like Malik the opportunity and confidence to become change agents. Make your holiday gift in honor of our courageous students. 

And Malik? He graduated from high school last June and is now spending a year working for the Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence in Rochester, NY, teaching middle school students how to change their worlds. 

This is the Malik we know. 


Fellowship Quote
Fellowship Quote

Critical Exposure students have made an indelible impact in their communities and through their peers since our founding in 2004. Since our founding we have served more than 1,600 youth. D.C. students have used their images to support efforts to create new school resources, fix deteriorating facilities, increase job training and youth employment programs, advocate for arts education, improve school nutrition, and secure funding for programs that support homeless youth. Students’ images have been seen by millions through exhibits, community events, legislative hearings, and through the media, including Oprah, CNN, PBS, NPR, the Washington Post, and the Baltimore Sun. 

Our recent accomplishments clearly indicate our ability to not only evoke interest and understanding of the arts in students, but also our ability to inspire youth to use the arts to improve the D.C. community as a whole. Our most recent 2013-2014 accomplishments are exciting. Thank you for the support of the Global Giving community to make these possible. 

  • Students enrolled in our Fellowship program and their campaign to improve school security policies were the recent subject of a Washington Post front-page feature story.
  • 100 percent of our 2013-2014 Fellowship students have graduated, or are on the path to graduating high school. Of those 12 students, seven will be attending four-year universities in the fall. Six of those students are working for Critical Exposure this summer as Summer Youth Facilitators, and one will be rejoining us as a Fellow next year.
  • At the Deputy Mayor of Education’s FY15 budget hearing, Fellows testified on why they think DCPS schools should implement restorative justice practices. The Fellows’ public demands resulted in a meeting with DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson to discuss possible solutions to the “School-to-Prison Pipeline.”
  • At the end of the year, D.C. Councilmember David Grosso said that, “Getting to know Critical Exposure students and their work provided me with key insights into how school discipline policies affect D.C. youth. Conversations with these extraordinary young people, advocacy groups, school officials and police officers resulted in my commitment to addressing the problem known as the ‘school to prison pipeline’. As part of that effort, I added a provision to the D.C. FY2015 budget requiring that D.C. Public Schools implement a pilot restorative justice program next year. This achieved one goal of the students’ campaign, and I was glad to work with them to begin dismantling the school to prison pipeline.
  • Our students were featured on WJLA’s Harris’ Heroes. CeCe, a Youth Internship student, said that, "Critical Exposure taught me to take your time, take multiple shots, and think about the explanation and how you feel and what you want done. Critical Exposure is the only place I feel truly accepted, no matter how I am." http://www.wjla.com/articles/2014/06/photography-program-helps-troubled-youth-find-a-healthier-path-in-life-103800.html
  • Fellows attended an event held by the White House Initiative on Excellence in African American Education at the U.S. Department of Education called "Reducing Disparities and Promoting Positive School Discipline to Ensure Educational Excellence for African Americans."
  • Students attended the Department of Justice and Department of Education release of Federal Guidelines on School Discipline. Afterwards, one of our students was interviewed live on Al Jazeera’s “Consider This” for his reaction to the event.
Fellowship students graduate
Fellowship students graduate
Student Spotlight
Student Spotlight


See her side!
See her side!
We had a great first semester this year, and we've hit the ground running for the second!
  • We concluded our program at DC Met where students advocated to push back the start time of their school day.
  • We began a new afterschool program at Cardozo High School through a partnership with City Year.
  • We have a new class of Youth Interns who come from 7 D.C. high schools.
  • Students at HD Woodson High School are advocating to change their dress code policy.
  • At Eastern High School the students are working to improve the relationship between faculty and students.
  • The Fellows have continued their efforts to implement a restorative justice pilot program in DCPS in 2014.


Critical Exposure Year in Review
Critical Exposure Year in Review

2013 was an amazing year for Critical Exposure! We served 175 students through 16 programs, received unprecedented media coverage that amplified CE student voices to national conversations, and saw some amazing changes in schools and communities as a result of our students' efforts.

All of our success this year was possible thanks to supporters like you! We look forward to seeing what we can achieve together in 2014.

Visit criticalexposure.org to get more updates and see student photos!

Thank you again for all of your support,

Adam Levner

Executive Director and Co-Founder

P.S. Be sure to check out this video of CE Fellow Delante on Al Jazeera America!

Introducing the Youth Internship! In September, Critical Exposure developed a new afterschool program called the Youth Internship. It's an intro program that builds leadership, photography, advocacy and political education skills for high school students. At the end of the program, students will be prepared to take their skills to the next level while leading a citywide advocacy campaign!

We were also honored to receive a Mayor's Arts Award for "Oustanding Contribution to Arts Education" from the D.C. Commission on Arts and Humanities. Our Fellows hosted a documentary screening and discussion with over 30 community members in attendance, and our 6th annual photo auction was our most successful yet. With over 200 people in attendance, we raised over $38,000 for youth advocacy and photography in D.C.


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Organization Information

Critical Exposure

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.criticalexposure.org/​
Critical Exposure
Project Leader:
Adam Levner
Washington, D.C. United States

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