Americans Who Tell the Truth (AWTT) is dedicated to the belief that a profound understanding of citizenship is the only safeguard of democracy and the best defense of social, racial, economic, and environmental justice. Working with our portraits and narratives of courageous citizens, AWTT crafts collaborative educational and community experiences that illuminate the ongoing struggle to realize America’s democratic ideals and model the commitment to act for the common good.
AWTT will create spaces where people can learn ways to participate democratically in building just and equitable communities. Through making art, facilitating journeys of individual and community discovery, and demonstrating how history shapes lives, AWTT will inspire a future of active citizenship.
What began in 2002 as artist Robert Shetterly’s personal portrait project has become a broad-based, not-for-profit arts and education organization, the mission of which is to foster and inspire “a profound sense of citizenship” by exposing students at all levels to portraits, quotes, biographies, and related resources built around these “Models of Courageous Citizenship.”
The AWTT project was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) organization in 2004. With the platform provided by the organization, the portraits and Robert Shetterly have participated in hundreds of events, presentations and exhibitions. To date, Shetterly and his portraits have been invited into grammar schools, high schools and colleges in 27 states and Washington, D.C. The Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellows program promotes him as a speaker through the Council of Independent Colleges. In addition, AWTT has collaborated with a number of organizations working to promote engaged citizenship through education and the media.
The portraits and related resources are modular, allowing them to be grouped to enhance existing curricula in a wide variety of subject disciplines, from science to the language arts. The project emphasizes civil rights, human rights, economic, and environmental justice, using past and present figures in American history that have inspired, pushed, challenged, and warned the country and its citizens to do better.
The AWTT website further supplements each portrait with a well-researched biography and links to other articles and resources. Each portrait is a portal into American history, a story of courage and persistence that reminds us that the power of democracy lies in the determined actions of the people. Taken together, the portraits demonstrate how change requires a community; meanwhile, each individual portrait is a testament to the fact that through persistence, each of us has the power to make a difference.
This work aims to close what has been called the “Civic Engagement Gap” or “Citizen Participation Gap” in the U.S. Young, poor, minority, and rural Americans under-participate in the civic life of our communities and the nation, and AWTT offers models of how citizens can act to solve the problems we face in our communities and our world.
In 2021, film-maker Richard Kane released a documentary about Shetterly and AWTT, called Truth Teller.
About the Artist
Robert Shetterly was born in 1946 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He graduated in 1969 from Harvard College with a degree in English Literature. At Harvard he took some courses in drawing which changed the direction of his creative life — from the written word to the image. Also, during this time, he was active in Civil Rights and in the Anti-Vietnam War movement.
Meet the Team
Meet the Board
More AWTT News
The Americans Who Tell the Truth (AWTT) portraits and narratives highlight citizens who courageously address issues of social, environmental, and economic fairness. By combining art and other media, AWTT offers resources to inspire a new generation of engaged Americans who will act for the common good, our communities, and the Earth.
Read up on AWTT updates and what our portrait subjects have been up to.
Check out our videos including portrait subject testimonials and talks by Robert Shetterly.
Want to get more involved? Learn how you can volunteer with AWTT and make a difference.