Death isn’t the greatest thing to be feared. For it homogenizes everyone, makes us all equally dead. Most folks are afraid of living because abundant life requires risking everything to love, liberate, and accept yourself and others now. People are afraid of life for it creates diversity and requires commitment to action. To live is to struggle.
Minister, Community Activist, Writer
The International Civil Rights Center and Museum, home of the F.W. Woolworth Store where Jibreel Khazan, the former Ezell Blair Junior, Joseph McNeil, the late David Richmond, and the late Franklin McCain, then students at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical College, Greensboro, NC, initiated the sit-in movement, is currently hosting a most unusual exhibit evocatively entitled, Americans Who Tell The Truth. Concomitant with this showing is an equally riveting mnemonic display of digital and hand-rendered depictions created by students from ten middle and high school campuses of Guilford County Schools honoring the truth-tellers in their lives.
This creatively combined art exhibit is an issue-based campaign designed to introduce, affirm, educate, inform, and reinforce the roles of valor, integrity, and activism across a broad spectrum affecting the daily lives of children and adults. The Americans Who Tell The Truth exhibit was brought to the ICRCM by Ellie Richard, an independent education consultant committed to providing kids with tools they can use to live meaningful lives. “The exhibit generates conversation and solutions,” she explained.
If we could be friends by just getting to know each other better, then what are our countries really arguing about? Nothing could be more important than not having a war if a war could kill everything.
Displayed on the main level, and second floor, are fifty-two of the 216 portraits painted by Robert Shetterly. The stories of these valiant Americans who dared to speak their truth offer a rare opportunity to peruse “…the substance of what is and is not working [in society],” Richard added, “while providing our children with models and perspectives for living courageous lives. My call is education – especially for our youth, sharing the unknown stories of our history and how our children can use these stories to help them find their way and their places. I know I didn’t have this as a kid.”
Ms. Tawanna W. Maryland, a junior at Guilford College, and a former GCS employee, coordinated the student participation component. “Guilford County Schools is committed to teaching and developing character,” she offered, underscoring the significance of bringing the two exhibits together as both an educational and artistic collaboration. Upon learning the Shetterly showing was leaving Asheville, and possibly North Carolina, Richard and Maryland lent their time, talent, energy, and vision to devise a plan which resulted in bringing the two endeavors together into one event. Maryland, an artist, consulted with Harry Swartz-Turffle, an instructor in the department of visual arts at Bennett College – the elder of the nation’s two historically Black colleges for women – and curator of the institution’s art gallery, to design a digital project based on courage.
GCS students were asked: Who are the truth-tellers in your lives? Their responses are insightful, heartwarming, and overwhelming. These remarkable young people, some of whom did not think of themselves as artists, produced multimedia and hand-rendered works. 259 submission were received and approximately 140 of them are showcased in the lobby, and on the lower level, of the museum. The following schools are represented:
- Aycock Middle.
- Eastern Guilford Middle.
- Jackson Middle.
- Jamestown Middle.
- Mendenhall Middle.
- Southeast High.
- Southern Guilford High.
- T. Wingate Andrews High.
- Weaver Academy.
- Western High.
Both exhibitions formally opened during a reception Saturday, November 14, 2015. Truth Tellers Speak, the GCS component, kicked off the festivities. Hauntingly beautiful portraits are accompanied by essays in which each student explains her or his choice. Their depictions are honest, imaginative, and revealing. They challenge conventional attitudes about how our youth process what they see, hear, and experience in their encounters with adults.
What’ wrong with our children? Adults telling children to be honest while lying and cheating. Adults telling children to not be violent while marketing and glorifying violence…I believe that adult hypocrisy is the biggest problem children face in America.
Marian Wright Edelman
Following the opening, actors portraying Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Samantha Smith, Mark Twain, Harriet Tubman, and Claudette Colvin mingled, sharing their thoughts, while guests dined on Egyptian and southern Mediterranean cuisine provided by Koshary. Woody Guthrie led the crowd in a rousing rendition of This Land is Your Land, perhaps the most unifying act of all.
Robert Shetterly began painting portraits of Americans Who Tell The Truth in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. He has chosen living, and deceased, Americans whose willingness to speak truth to power – and to do so unhesitatingly – offers all who view them a milieu in which to examine, analyze, and reflect on personal points of view regarding art, politics, religion, the environment, education, civil and equal rights, peace, and respect for humanity. Each portrayal includes a trenchant quote made by the subject and a concise biography. The impact of the two exhibits is heightened when observed within the context of who our children see as truth-tellers and what character means to them. The experience may lead one to ponder the behavior so-called grown folk model and how it’s perceived, especially by children and youth. Is it constructive, destructive, or indifferent?
America is simultaneously the most professedly Christian of the developed nations and the least Christian in its behavior. At the moment the idea of Jesus has been hijacked by people with a series of causes that do not reflect his teachings. It’s hard to imagine a con much more audacious than making Christ the front man for a program of tax cuts for the rich or war in Iraq. We have made golden calves of ourselves – become a nation of terrified, self-obsessed idols.
Author, Christian, Environmentalist
Americans Who Tell The Truth/Truth-Tellers Speak is timely and provocative. Throughout the history of this great country, people who have spoken up and addressed issues challenging acceptance of morally, socially, and legally questionable policies, laws, and behaviors, often sanctioned by federal and state governments, including inequality, women’s reproductive health, access to education and health care, workers’ rights, xenophobia, religious intolerance, and homophobia have been derided, vigorously denounced, ostracized, criticized, vilified, and many have died – cut down by hatred and a malicious determination to silence them for all time. Shetterly organized his portraits by field or area of endeavor, a bold move which quietly, and unobtrusively, draws attention to a painful reality: the truth is constantly under attack. Its sanctity poses a genuine threat to those who seek to subvert it. Americans Who Tell The Truth/Truth-Tellers Speak is a persuasive, unflinching reminder of the power of honesty, integrity, scruples, and verity. These ideals can convict, antagonize, afflict, challenge, convince, compel, and convert. Truth isn’t meant to be convenient, comfortable, or hidden. It can’t be pared down to thirty-second soundbites or promoted as cleverly condensed words of wisdom.
The biggest mistake sometimes is to play things very safe in this life and end up being moral failures.
Social Activist, Journalist
The artists featured in this exhibit have succeeded in engaging the gamut of human emotions, purposefully drawing attention to the creations of youngsters who crave models of valorous, unapologetic living along with the stories of fearless children, teenagers, and adults who questioned the status quo. Dissatisfied with pat answers, or impelled by humiliating acquiescence, they followed divine paths which led them on transformative quests whose outcomes continue to reverberate, resonate, or rattle the zealous rectitude of those who do not deal in truth – whose disrespect for it wreaks havoc. Americans Who Tell The Truth/Models of Courageous Citizenship is a brilliant critique of modern civilization displayed through the art of Robert Shetterly and Guilford County Schools students.
There is an aspiration that binds us. It is the dream of justice for a beloved community. It is the belief that extremes and excesses of inequality must be reduced so that each person is free to develop his or her full potential.
Political Science Professor, U. S. Senator