YES! Recommends: Americans Who Tell The Truth

Americans Who Tell the Truth spotlights 170 portraits of truth tellers—people who fought for all people's rights with courage and determination—to teach students of all ages not only about their heritage, but also to stand up for what they believe in.
AWTT Book Cover




Robert Shetterly felt angry and sad after the horror of 9/11. So, he did the best thing a painter could do to work through intense feelings—he painted.

Shettterly’s original goal was to paint 50 portraits of Americans who used their gifts—and grit—to bring equal rights to all.  Truth-tellers, he calls them.  Today, there are 170 portraits—all accompanied by quotes written by the portrait subject—and more in the works.

AWTT offers curriculum, lesson plans, and other resources to teach your students not only about their American heritage, but also to draw strength from heroic virtues of courage, honesty, tolerance, generosity, and compassion.  Shetterly sees the portraits as affirmations that “only through persistent courage and dedicated citizenship can we maintain our ideals.

With AWTT resources, you and your students not only will discover new heroes, but, also perhaps, a newfound spirit to bring change to your lives and communities.

Americans Who Tell the Truth Curriculum


Americans Who Tell the Truth’s portraits, accompanying quotes, and biographies afford multiple opportunities to engage students in critical thinking, discussion, research, writing, and creative expression. Its core curriculum includes a number of ways to use the biographies of Robert Shetterly’s 170 portraits, including “living” timelines, role-playing and dramatization, citizenship projects, and sketchbook journals.


VISIT: Americans Who Tell the Truth Curriculum

MORE: NEW! Lessons on nine areas of social justice (see right hand column).


"Moments of Truth" Poems

Many of the portrait subjects have written quotes responding to the question: What was a turning point in your life that really defined your work’s purpose? Here’s a terrific activity to recognize and celebrate the core of inspiration for a truth teller’s work—their “moment of truth.” Have your students read the quote or brief piece written by a portrait subject. Then follow this poetry template, loosely based on Kekla Magoon's "The Rock and the River" study. 

Here’s an example from Dr. Martin Luther King:

Dr. Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King, Jr., portrait by Robert Shetterly

I am Martin

Courageous non-violent warrior
I love all people
I hate oppression
I fear ignorance
I wish for freedom


VISIT:  For directions on how your students can create their own "Moments of Truth" poems, click here. Please scroll to mid-page for "Moments of Truth."




Education nonprofit groups, including Voices Education Project and Zinn Education Project are pairing their lesson plans with AWTT portraits or hosting online galleries. These partnership resources expand the number of ways teachers may work with the portraits in their classrooms. For example, Voices Education Project—an organization that gives voice to war veterans and helps students understand the roots of conflict and rebuild healthy human communities—organized AWTT portraits according to topics that mean something to them, such as anti-war and human rights heroes, religious leaders, elected officials, and filmmakers.


VISIT: See the Voices Education Project online gallery exhibit here

VISIT: Click here for the Zinn Education Project lesson on Ella Baker

EXPLORE: For more AWTT partnerships:


YES! Breakthrough 15 & Americans Who Tell The Truth

Breakthrough 15 logo

Like YES! Magazine’s Breakthrough 15, artist Robert Shetterly highlights individuals who are “models of courageous citizenship.” Many of the YES! Breakthrough 15 heroes, along with their nominators and life work are connected to Americans Who Tell the Truth truth tellers.

Have your students explore the portraits below to gain a deeper understanding of these heroes and their related work or issues.

AWTT portraits below are of the actual YES! Breakthrough Hero, or a nominator of or person who does work related to the hero.



Americans Who Tell the Truth Educators


Americans Who Tell the Truth recognizes the inherent nature of social justice in the everyday lives of teachers. In the spirit of the YES! Breakthrough 15, AWTT wants to share its educator truth tellers among its 170-and-growing portraits. Each one stands for the hundreds of teachers like you whom AWTT considers equally remarkable.



Global nature of citizenship


Value of voices and peacemaking


Preservation of childhood


Racial equality and understanding



Community collaboration


Beauty of children and their families


Fair and equal application of law


Inclusion key to education


Advocate for outsiders and underclass


Other resources:

  • Order prints/posters. All portraits are now available as posters and/or gift cards. Click here to explore and order.
  • Host an AWTT exhibit. For information on how to host an Americans Who Tell the Truth exhibit, click here.
  • Stay up on the latest AWTT news with Twitter (@truthamerica) and Facebook





Painter Robert Shetterly's series, Americans Who Tell the Truth, highlights Americans past and present whose dignity, courage, and honesty have shaped this country. In addition to 170 portraits, the organization provides curriculum and other classroom resources. It is also a traveling exhibit.


Robert Shetterly

Robert Shetterly’s creative epiphany came when he took a couple of drawing courses at Harvard College. An award-winning artist of many genres—painting, drawing, illustration, printmaking, etching—the Maine painter has focused on a series of portraits called "Americans Who Tell the Truth." Much of his current community work focuses on issues concerning whistle-blowing,  the environment, and education.