ROBERT SHETTERLY: AN AMERICAN WHO TELLS THE TRUTH
By Richard Kane
Robert Shetterly, former president of the UMVA, has become the subject of the latest episode in the Maine Masters film series I am directing. Since 2001 I’ve been following Rob’s passionate adventure into defending American democracy through the creation of his portrait series, Americans Who Tell the Truth. I’ll write about two of his portraits: Reggie Harris and Kelsey Juliana who we expect to appear in the film. For information about the film see the new trailer: https://vimeo.com/300584518 and check the website: http://www.kanelewis.com
Pivotal to the power and importance of Shetterly’s project is how he inspires people to take action. He does this by painting “models of courageous citizenship”.
Reggie Harris is a singer/social activist. Scratched into Reggie’s portrait (image at top of page) are his words:
“… though our history remains, it’s our actions we must change … if we hope to heal our planet we must stand … in the shelter of each other.”
Reggie is a man filled with love and hope. As a youngster in Philadelphia’s inner city, he was raised by his mother and grandmother who instilled in him the value of treating people with respect. Although neither his church nor his household was active in the Civil Rights movement, he became intensely aware that blacks were at a disadvantage in the larger world.
He also learned that economics and class often transcended racism; some black kids considered him undesirable for dating or socializing because he lived in the projects. He wrote about this time: “I felt very much alone and at odds in my efforts to negotiate the school terrain. When the school had a race riot in my junior year, I realized that I had friends of all races….That was the first time that I began to realize that I was a bridge builder.” And he has been a bridge builder ever since.
Recently Reggie discovered a line of his own ancestry with roots in Hickory Hill, a Virginia plantation owned by Confederate General Williams Carter Wickham. General Wickham fathered several children with his great great grandmother. Soon after this discovery, Reggie was performing in North Carolina and retold this story. After the concert a woman approached him and said she had an elementary school friend in Richmond, VA named Wickham and asked if he would want to meet her. “Of course, “ said Reggie. So began the close connection to the white side of Reggie’s family.
Reggie’s performances are soulful and deeply moving. To raise funds for the film Reggie performed two sets on June 29th at the Blue Hill Town Hall, and in between sets there was a public conversation between Reggie and Rob about the power of art to engage and advance social justice. Reggie’s music can be heard here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=10xHYbbwGqI
Rob Shetterly’s portrait subject Kelsey Juliana is working to secure the legal right to a stable climate. He writes on her portrait:
“Youth are standing up for our fundamental right to inherit a stable and survivable planet.”
Her lawsuit Juliana v. United States says that the government is violating their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property by exacerbating climate chaos through promoting the increased use of fossil fuels. The case has gone to the Supreme Court twice which rejected the government lawyer’s attempts to dismiss the case. It was heard again on June 4, 2019 by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Their ruling whether to allow the case to proceed will be announced soon. The case is bringing tremendous notice to the mission of Our Children’s Trust, the organization representing Juliana and the 21 other youth plaintiffs. Since Congress is taking no action on climate change and the Executive Branch is setting policy increasing carbon emissions, their only recourse is through the Courts. Whether the Courts choose to exercise that power is yet to be seen. See http://www.ourchildrenstrust.org
While in the 7th grade Kelsey Juliana’s Social Studies teacher brought out a book about courageous change makers titled Americans Who Tell the Truth. Eight years later when Rob contacted her, she was stunned to be asked if he could paint her portrait. Rob’s project surely was one impetus giving Juliana the courage to fight the fight to save our planet. The film intends to be on the courthouse steps with Shetterly and Juliana, either to protest or celebrate, to give others the courage to speak truth to power.
If you’re able to support this project financially, please send your tax deductible contribution to:
c/o Jackie Bennett, Treasurer
PO Box 51
Walpole, ME 04573
Indicate “Shetterly” in the Memo line of your check
With your support the film is slated to be completed Winter 2020. For more information contact Richard Kane at: firstname.lastname@example.org 207-359-2320