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.
In 2012 and 2013, The Broad Reach Fund supported AWTT’s efforts to extend our online reach and resources for teachers and citizens.
In May of 2013, AWTT won a grant from the Kay E. Dopp Fund of the Maine Community Foundation to support our current educational focus, which is to train teachers to use the portraits and stories in interdisciplinary ways to promote a better understanding of history and active engagement. 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. Often, most of us aren’t sure what to do to solve the problems we face in our communities and our world.
AWTT's several years of ongoing work in the Louisville public school system, spearheaded by local educator Michele Hemenway, has helped to develop a local and regional program model that can be set up in other cities, counties and states around the country to generate dialogue between students, parents, local leaders, and teachers around addressing important community issues. Much of the Louisville work was financed by SYNAPSE, a local non-profit dedicated to the arts, storytelling and community engagement. What has been noted particularly in the Louisville work is the way that this material empowers young people to take a positive, active role in their communities. SYNAPSE arranged for one fifth grade class to present their “truths” about community problems to the Louisville Mayor´s office and the officials responded by committing to address the community issues the children raised. By making school relevant to the lives of students and by giving them a voice in changing their environment, we find students develop trust in school and the value of it for their future. They want to learn.
Also, in Louisville, AWTT has been a part of the very successful magnet law program of the Brandeis Law School in Central High School coordinated by teachers Joe Gutmann and Laura Rothstein.
In 2021, film-maker Richard Kane released a documentary about Shetterly and AWWT, called Truth Tellers. View the trailer here.
- 1st prize awarded to the 2005 book, Americans Who Tell the Truth, by the International Readers Association for intermediate non-fiction.
- In 2009, Robert Shetterly was named a Woodrow Wilson Fellow by the Council of Independent Colleges, which subsidizes extended residencies in colleges around the country.
- 2011 exhibit of AWTT portraits in the US Embassy in Bangladesh.
- Honorary Doctorates awarded to Robert Shetterly by the University of New England and University of Maine at Farmington.
- Citizenship Award given to Robert Shetterly by the University of Southern Maine.
Ongoing collaborations with educational and non-profit organizations include (this list does not include onetime visits, talks or exhibitions):
- Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs
- Zinn Education Project
- Operation Breaking Stereotypes (Orono, Maine)
- Yes! Magazine
- Barefoot Artists
- My Hero Project
- Muhammad Ali Center (Louisville, Kentucky)
- Kentucky Center For African American Heritage (Louisville, Kentucky)
- Veterans for Peace
- Voices Education Project