Speaker Project Series: Adam Levner

I am the definition of an absolute choir nerd. I was the kid who spent every lunch period in the choir room with my friends and my music teachers, who are still some of my greatest role models. My arts education in high school taught me more about dedication and teamwork than any other class, and, as a cherry on top, it gave me the opportunity to travel the world to practice and share music. The craziness of college has made it more difficult to keep up with this passion. Admittedly, I can’t say that music is still a part of my daily life in the way it used to be. However, there is no doubt in my mind that the music classes I took in high school have been a defining factor in who I am today and who I desire to be in the future.


Considering my appreciation for arts education, it came as no surprise that I was drawn to Adam Levner’s TEDxFoggyBottom talk. Levner is the CEO and founder of Critical Exposure, a local non-profit dedicated to teaching high school students photography and providing them with the mentorship in the arts that they may not be receiving otherwise. 

It has been inspiring to follow Levner’s journey. His story, and that of his students, emboldens viewers to take action in their own communities to protect what they believe in, arts related or otherwise. For Levner, it doesn’t matter what passion students decide to follow as long as they do so wholeheartedly.

Fast-forward almost two years later, as I climbed the steps of the Thurgood Marshall Center near U St. where Critical Exposure is located. Absorbed in planning for our 2017 event, it was a needed pause to rewind back to 2015 to catch up with one of my favorite speakers. Here’s the best part: Critical Exposure is thriving, building resources to create more school partnerships, more mentorship programs, and most importantly, more impact.

The students Levner featured in his 2015 talk have all graduated and gone on to carry on Critical Exposure’s values in their own lives: one is training to be a teacher; another is in art school studying photography; another involved in advocacy work. Though they are not all photographers, their arts education continues to shape their lives.

Education matters. Art education matters. It brings together people from different backgrounds to share a common passion. It emboldens individuals to take charge of their own creativity and light their own fires. TEDxFoggyBottom’s key mission is to provide a platform for individuals to share their creativity, ingenuity, and passion with the community. Our conference seeks to give a voice to speakers like Adam Levner so that they can continue to empower and inspire.

It has been exactly three years since I was on a plane to Spain to sing with my high school choir, two years since Adam Levner inspired D.C. youth on the TEDxFoggyBottom stage, and a few weeks since we got together to catch up on his work. This is the end of the story. As Levner passionately said during his talk, "stories are not enough...We’re much more likely to get the changes we need to happen if we take action."

You can watch Adam Levner's TEDxFoggyBottom talk here

This post was created as part of TEDxFoggyBottom’s Speaker Project Series. The Speaker Project is an ongoing initiative to reconnect with our past speakers all around the world and speak with them about life post-TEDxFoggyBottom. Stay tuned for more interviews and reflections by our team members!

The TEDxFoggyBottom Team