December 16, 2022 Melissa DeShields

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

In October of 2019, as part of a yearlong strategic planning process led by our good friends and colleagues at Keecha Harris and Associates, Frontline Solutions’ owners—myself, Marcus Littles, Micah Gilmer, and Ryan Bowers—met in Washington, DC with some of the firms’ closest advisors to talk about our future. At that time, we couldn’t have predicted how profoundly the world was about to change, but we did have a strong analysis of the inequities that would soon be brought into stark relief. And, in the middle of our second decade as a firm, we were grappling with big questions: What would it look like to harness our collective talent and brilliance to build and sustain Black-centered organizations, starting with our own? What would it look like to prioritize culture, learning, rest, and joy? And, how might we amplify the lessons we’d learned and the voices of movement leaders?

From aligning and directing billions of philanthropic dollars toward a more equitable recovery in the Gulf Coast Region following Hurricane Katrina, to spearheading groundbreaking research and collaboration to improve life outcomes for African American males, we were proud of all we’d accomplished. We’d become a trusted partner to some of the world’s most powerful foundations, universities, nonprofits, and enterprises. We’d nurtured meaningful relationships with grassroots movement organizations. And, we were always guided by our North Star of advancing freedom and justice for Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color. We knew that, in the management consulting space, this set us apart. We were also clear-eyed about the challenges we faced; Challenges that were very much related to the issues that would soon erupt to the surface with the emergence of a global pandemic and the largest protest movement in US history. As a Black-founded-and-led firm, we didn’t always get the same respect as other firms, or the same big checks. We didn’t have a multimillion-dollar runway, or any financial runway. We had to build our business contract by contract, project by project. But, our friends and advisors reminded us that what we had to offer was vital. They encouraged us to dream big and manifest what we wanted. So, we set four ambitious and measurable goals to be achieved by 2022:

  1. Deepen the impact of the consulting model toward greater and better investments in Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color.
  2. Bolster the firm’s credibility, performance, and reach through a robust communications and public relations strategy.
  3. Increase profitability by quintupling our revenue.
  4. Create strategies to recruit, reward, and retain high-performing staff to implement these bodies of work.

Some might look at these goals and deem them outlandish. But we believe in the power of naming what you want, having a plan to achieve it, and continuously adapting. And, we have deep experience in navigating change and uncertainty, and supporting our clients to do the same.

Still, to be honest, there were moments of doubt and worry. As was true for every person and organization around the world, the beginning of 2020 was incredibly difficult for us. There were so many reasons for fear and grief. But, we kept returning to that meeting in D.C with our friends and advisors. They told us stories about how working with Frontline had impacted their work on racial equity within their respective organizations or shifted their understanding as individuals. While many consulting firms scrambled to create a DEI line of business when demand skyrocketed due to COVID and the national reckoning with racism, this work had always been core to who we are. Indeed, in 2019, we’d launched our Equity Footprint, a framework and process for accelerating organizational equity journeys through self-examination, collective conversation, and concerted action. We had the tools and expertise to meet the moment and make a meaningful contribution. And, because we already had a plan for growth in revenue, staff, and ambition, we were able to move quickly. We made key hires in all areas of our business, including expanding the consulting team and building business development and communications teams. And, because we know that the old adage that culture eats strategy is true, we also hired a Lead for People and Culture to ensure that we continued to center our values and people as we embarked on this growth trajectory.

In our case, the adage that if you build it, they will come also proved true. Not only did we achieve the audacious goals we set out in 2019, but in many ways, we surpassed them. We more than quintupled our revenue. In 2022 alone, we worked on 59 projects with clients ranging from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to Make the Road. Our robust communications strategy has sparked conversation about, for example, whether we should cancel capacity building and why people should stop comparing Black firms to McKinsey. Since 2020, we have regranted $2,445,700 to 34 BIPOC organizations working to remove structural barriers and accelerate economic mobility for communities of color. And, through our investments in our people and culture, we’ve cultivated joy, deepened our practices of learning and reflection, and experimented toward liberation.

We know we don’t have all the answers. We’ve made mistakes—We’ve discussed some of them here and here. But, one thing that the last three years have taught us is that we can do well and do good by being unapologetically who we are. In that 2019 meeting, one of our advisors said that we were, in some ways, one of the sector’s best kept secrets. People didn’t know how long we’d been around, what we could do, how deep our bench was, or how bold our vision. Now, more people do. And, as we look to 2023 and beyond, we’re going to be even more unapologetically Black. We’re going to continue being a critical friend to the sector. And we’re going to keep dreaming big, all the way to Liberation.

Thank you for being on this journey with us. We look forward to imagining, planning, innovating, learning, and transforming with you.

Melissa DeShields


Our 2022 Highlights

From the projects that energized us, to welcoming brilliant new staff, to the research we contributed to the field, here are some of our highlights from 2022.