Member spotlight: Arden Shank

Portrait of Arden Shank, a white man with grayish hair and beard. He is wearing a baseball cap.

Arden Shank is a community development consultant, policy advisor, and longtime Corporate Accountability member from Goshen, Indiana. In this edition of the Spotlight newsletter, we spoke with Arden about the legacies of white supremacy and corporate abuse—and how local, grassroots movements can help undo these historical harms.

How do you see the role of corporations in creating or perpetuating historical injustices?

For 30 years, I worked in the housing and community development sector. I saw directly how large corporations, especially banks, take advantage of low-income and disadvantaged people because these corporations have the financial capabilities and political connections to make things happen to their advantage. And these decisions affect hundreds of millions of people, sometimes not just in the U.S. but also in other countries around the world.

To me, corporate abuse isn’t just massive in scale; it’s also systemic. There is an ongoing revolving door relationship between corporate executives and government officials—and vice versa—that corrupts our policies to benefit the few, and often at the expense of ethnic and racial minorities.

This behavior is frankly another manifestation of white supremacy. It’s building on decades, sometimes centuries of government policies that have oppressed non-white communities. I’m talking about slavery, I’m talking about Jim Crow, I’m talking about all sorts of political and economic policies that are still in place and have contributed to the huge racial wealth gap we see today.

How have Corporate Accountability’s campaigns inspired you to take action with or in your own community?

The whole notion of “building a world rooted in justice” is what my life’s work has always been about. It’s really hard to change an entire system that has been in place for this long, and that work has to be very, very intentional to succeed. Though I haven’t directly organized with Corporate Accountability, all the campaigns and its related research greatly influence me, like the Roadmap to Reparations that was published a few months ago.

What does “organizing towards racial justice” mean to you?

As I mentioned, the racial wealth gap was created by decades of government policies—so addressing this gap requires government action. But that doesn’t mean that the rest of us are powerless. We all have a role to play and many of the major achievements in the civil rights movements didn’t just pop up out of nowhere. It took decades of sustained organizing to get there, and this is what it’s going to take for us today as well.

One of the things we can do to address the harms done by the federal government is to pass HR40, a bill to study and develop reparations proposals for Black Americans. But overall, hundreds, maybe thousands of grassroots efforts need to happen throughout the country so we can expand the idea of what’s possible for everyone.

I’d love to hear more about one of these grassroots efforts that you’re talking about: your church’s reparations committee. How did you become involved with the reparations movement?

Interest in and knowledge of paying reparations grew slowly and organically among the congregation of Goshen’s Assembly Mennonite Church. People became aware of this movement in their own ways: some through reading books on the issue, some through their workplaces, others through their friends and connections. But the idea really gained ground among all of us in February 2022 when one of our pastors gave an important “turning point” sermon on reparations, what it is, and why it was important. And in October 2022, the congregation voted to start making reparations payments. So there wasn’t a single big moment that led to the creation of this initiative and a Reparations Committee, but rather a sustained effort by all at the church.

What is important about this action?

Our church made our first reparations payment by the end of 2023. And we’re not doing this to convince anyone of anything. We’re doing this to show fully where we as a country, as a society came from—and to address the harm that has been done to Black Americans and Indigenous Peoples historically. Goshen, Indiana, itself sits on Potawatomi land and was a sundown town. There are implications to this history that persist today. But through our work to fully understand our past, we know that it becomes more likely for us to begin addressing the issue and closing any gaps or injustices associated with this history.

Our journey isn’t just about making these payments because there’s so much that we have to learn. So we have reading lists for members of the church, we bring in outside speakers to talk about these issues, and we’re thinking about how we want to extend an invitation to other churches in the area to join us in making these restitutions. Our hope is that we will eventually grow a coalition of churches involved in the reparations movement and start having an influence on government policy that will bring equity to our communities.

What keeps you motivated to continue your justice-centered work, whether with your church, at Corporate Accountability, or elsewhere?

The most important thing is to stay connected with other people who are involved in doing similar work. This is so fundamentally necessary because it keeps me informed of what people, organizations, or movements are doing, and it keeps me going.

I left my long-time job 6 years ago after 30 years of working in housing and community development. But to stay plugged in to the sector, I now serve on several community reinvestment boards. We invite and challenge banks to expand access credit, capital, and banking services for low income and minority people in their market areas, particularly for homeownership and microbusiness development.

Sometimes, my cynical side does kick in and I feel like all of the things I’m doing will never go anywhere. But there is also a deep-seated hope for change inside me. And by staying connected with others, I am reminded that nothing I do is in isolation. Together, we’re building points of light across the country to eventually get the people power to make radical change happen at the highest levels—it can be done, and it has been done.

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