December 15, 2023 Melissa DeShields

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Reflecting on the past year of Frontline Solutions’ work, the word that comes to mind is power.

We grew power among our brilliant staff of predominantly Black and brown leaders and changemakers by experimenting with a new structure to provide the coaching, feedback, and support folks want without replicating harmful practices and policies around performance, people management, and compensation.

We invested in the power of Black and brown communities through the Elevate Initiative, which supports 28 organizations doing on-the-ground work to remove structural barriers and accelerate economic mobility.

We supported the Inatai Foundation to shift funder-grantee power differentials, surveying more than 100 of their grantee organizations to better understand how well leaders feel their policies, processes, and practices align with their new values and how they experience Inatai’s support.

We worked with the Solutions Project to power a just transition to a regenerative economy by ensuring their grant dollars primarily support people-of-color and women-led organizations working on climate justice, clean energy, food, water, and soil.

We partnered with Runway to expand their powerful model of driving capital to connect Black businesses and communities in the South.

And this is just a fraction of the work we did this year with 43 clients on 45 projects.

Our focus on power is not coincidental; It’s existential. Frontline is a Black-founded and led firm with a North Star of advancing freedom and justice for Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color. Our work aims to move the social sector beyond representation toward redistributing power and resources.

We’ve been thrilled to work with many institutions similarly wrestling with questions of power and accountability. Our business is thriving, and we’re continuing to make meaningful progress toward our most audacious goals—from creating an environment of radical trust, feedback, and humanization to becoming the go-to firm for values-aligned organizations working toward equity and justice. We believe that our partners seek us out because of our reputation for delivering high-quality, impactful, and transformational engagements that always center the most impacted folks.

Yet, even with all our successes, we must remain clear-eyed about the forces that threaten Black institutions like ours. This might seem strange to acknowledge in an end-of-year CEO message. I’m supposed to stick to the selling points. But Frontline is not your typical consulting firm. We’ve long been working to untether ourselves from convention when it doesn’t serve our values and mission.

In our work, we bring an analysis of race, class, power, and systems that allows us to get at the roots of issues. We believe it’s important to tell the truth about what exists now while radically imagining what could be. This requires principled interrogation and vulnerability. It’s in this spirit that I want to share what keeps me up at night: I worry that Black institutions are far more exposed to risk than white institutions, and I worry about the forces working overtime to undermine our collective efforts to build power in our communities.

Despite the estimated billions pledged to racial justice following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, there is a notable absence of data about how much of that funding went to Black-led organizations. We do know that Black-led nonprofits have historically received dramatically less funding than their white counterparts. We know that Black business owners face more significant barriers and restrictions to loan and capital investment, particularly of the kind that enables companies to build infrastructure. This reality has affected us. When we were starting out, we struggled to access the financing all businesses need to thrive.

We also know that Black-led institutions and Black leaders are scrutinized in ways that our white peers are not. In our sector of management consulting, for example, while big white-led firms have come under fire for everything from fueling the opioid epidemic and climate crisis to destroying the middle class, they continue to be favored partners by some social sector institutions working on those very same issues. Yet, Black-led firms continue to be questioned about our expertise and capacity to take on big projects.

Meanwhile, book bans and new legislation are limiting students and teachers from learning and discussing issues related to race and gender, silencing Black voices, and erasing Black and queer history. In Florida, for example, the Department of Education rejected a pilot Advanced Placement African American Studies course from being offered in the state’s public high schools. And the Supreme Court’s decision this summer to unravel affirmative action in college admissions might impact how courts analyze diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies in other areas, from employment decisions to DEI programs in workplaces and beyond.

We can’t be naïve about how these issues might impact our work. How will the erasure and denial of America’s history of the genocide of Native peoples, slavery, and Jim Crow affect the work of organizations working to address the enduring harms of those policies? How will the unraveling of affirmative action be used as a dangerous precedent to attack racial justice efforts? How will it be seized upon to further undermine Black leaders?

But, when I’m up at night worrying about these threats, I remind myself of the ecosystem of changemakers Frontline is part of. This year, we’ve seen our Elevate partners come together to learn from one another and share promising practices. We’ve seen movement leaders across communities working in inspiring solidarity. We’ve been in dialogue with other Black institutions about building upon the legacy of liberatory Black imagination and leadership. We know that, together, we’re a force to be reckoned with, far more powerful than any of the barriers in our way.

Thank you for being part of our community. We look forward to taking even bolder action together next year.

Check out our end-of-year highlights for more about the projects that energized us, our incredible staff, and the research we contributed to the field.

Melissa DeShields



Check out our end-of-year highlights for more about the projects that energized us, our incredible staff, and the research we contributed to the field.