People with SMI have often been excluded in advocacy efforts focused on physical health, health care and health and social policy. Following a Photovoice project focused on barriers to healthy eating and physical activity in urban neighbourhoods, participant-researchers were invited to present their insights in community advocacy settings. The purpose of this study was to explore the feasibility and participant-researchers' experience of these community advocacy activities. We held four focus groups with the eight participant-researchers after each community advocacy activity to explore their experience with public speaking, presenting their experiences and advocating. People with serious mental illness who were overweight/obese living in supportive housing. Qualitative analysis of the focus group transcripts, using a modified grounded theory approach followed by structured coding focused on empowerment, participation and non-discrimination. Participant-researchers gave three oral presentations of their photographs at a variety of community-based programmes and settings and participated in a rally to advocate for SNAP benefits. Two themes emerged from analysis: (a) Empowerment (the level of choice, influence and control that users of mental health services can exercise over events in their lives) and (b) Barriers to Empowerment (obstacles to participation and well-being). This evaluation strengthens the evidence that it is feasible for participant-researchers in Photovoice projects to engage in robust advocacy activities, such as presentations and discussions with local policymakers. During focus groups, participant-researchers demonstrated realistic optimism towards their roles as change agents and influencers in spite of acknowledged systemic barriers. © 2020 The Authors Health Expectations published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.