(WJLA) - Nineteen-year-old Orlando Armstead says he never would have guessed that today he'd be preparing his work for a photography exhibit.
He used to be a troubled kid headed down a dangerous path, making bad decisions for what he thought were good reasons in an effort to support his single mother and nine siblings.
"I come from a background of uh, you know, struggle - and trying to provide for my family and things like that," Armstead told ABC7.
But thanks to a nonprofit called Critical Exposure, Armstead has changed his ways.
"Critical Exposure has opened me up to a better vision of my future," he says. "I feel as though I really want to do this type of work."
Critical Exposure teaches youth the photograph things that concern them in their schools and community - and use the images to advocate for change.
They meet with government and school officials and showcase their work in exhibits to engage the community too.
"Debates around education and education policy rarely include the voices of the students who are the experts at the end of the day," said Adam Levner, executive director of Critical Exposure. "And so the point of this exhibit is to understand what is it that students really think about their schools."
Cece Gordon, another person who has been helped by the program, says she's learned that her voice matters.
"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," she says.
Through the program, she says she's become more confident in sharing her thoughts.
"Critical Exposure is the only place I feel truly accepted, no matter how I am," she explained.
Armstead says he's learned how to communicate and be a leader, and he's trying to use those skills now to improve the lives of those around him.
"One of the main reasons and main focus [is to] try to be a trend-setter for younger brothers and sisters," he said. "Because I've seen them go down the path I went down, and I'm trying to tell them to do right, all the time."