Molly Shack Turns Shame Into Dignity

The Ohio Organizing Collaborative co-director helps those struggling with inequity realize they are not alone.

Laura Arenschield
Molly Shack, co-executive director of the Ohio Organizing Collaborative

In 2011, some friends helped Molly Shack realize she had an important story to tell. Back then, she was an Ohio State University student, working full time to keep afloat while also taking classes. Her struggles were the result of a dramatic cut in financial aid at the Ohio Statehouse, and her friends wanted Shack to share how this legislative change had affected her. 

“I was somebody who was keeping my nose down, working very hard, and someone reached out and gave me a voice, and made me realize I wasn’t the only one going through what I was going through,” Shack recalls. 

Shack first got involved with the Ohio Organizing Collaborative as a student organizer. In 2012, she co-founded the Ohio Student Association, which organized students on campuses across Ohio to push for policies that better served them: affordable access to education, racial equality, protections for voting rights. It is now the largest student organizing association in the state. 

Today, Shack is the co-executive director of the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, which has registered more than 380,000 people to vote since 2012. She’s worked with the families of people—mainly Black men—who have been killed by Columbus police and worked to educate voters about how their local votes affect the way they and their neighbors are policed. She considers the November defeat of longtime Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien a big win for her and other organizers. “He failed to ever hold a police officer accountable, and his loss was a movement shift, supported by groups like ours, that helped people connect the dots about why the rage that’s being expressed in the streets can be harnessed to understand the power of a prosecutor to hold a police officer accountable or not.” 

Adrienne Hood, whose son Henry Green was killed by Columbus police in 2016—and who has become an activist and organizer herself—says Shack was one of the first activists she met after Green was killed. Spreading the lesson she first learned in 2011, Shack helped Hood understand that her story could move people to make the world better. 

“What makes Molly effective is Molly’s heart,” Hood says. “Some people who are in this space are in it for the opportunities it brings them. They’re in it to be out front and have their names said out loud. And Molly is not like that. She will roll up her sleeves and work in the back if it’s necessary, work in the middle if it’s necessary, or be out front if it’s necessary. The work comes from her heart.” 

For Shack, the key is giving people dignity when their circumstances feel heavy. “The soul food of organizing is about transforming shame into dignity,” she says. This process helps people understand that they’re not alone, that things don’t have to stay the same, that people can join together to make a better world. “That is what sustains me,” she says.