An End of Year Message From Frontline Solutions’ CEO & Partner, Melissa DeShields

December 9, 2021 Melissa DeShields

“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

—Audre Lorde


“God looks out for fools and babies.”

—Lois K. Sample


Dear friends and colleagues,


When Marcus Littles founded Frontline in 2005, building a consulting firm was the last thing on his mind. And for years, even as the firm grew, he and his fellow partners – Ryan Bowers and Micah Gilmer – resisted the idea of becoming “Bridgespan for Black folks.” While the idea of creating a home for Black brilliance held great appeal, they worried that becoming a consulting firm would require conformity to white-centered and toxic standards of practice and hinder them from achieving their ultimate goal: Liberation.


Let’s be clear, outside of making money, most consulting organizations don’t have goals. And when they do, they are not “advancing freedom and justice for Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color.” So Marcus, Micah, and Ryan knew from the start they’d chosen a hard road to hoe. Still, in 2007, when they partnered with the Ford Foundation to release Why We Can’t Wait: A Case for Philanthropic Action: Opportunities for Improving Life Outcomes for African American Males, it affirmed that they wanted to do more. Centering the skills, talents, and lived experience of people, who are fighting for a more just world, had to be part of Frontline’s approach and strategy.


Fast forward to 2021. It’s been a difficult time for so many people, especially organizations working for equity and justice. Frontline has stayed in the game and continues to thrive precisely because of the support of our communities. As we celebrated our 16th anniversary, we even more fully embraced our role as a consulting firm for the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors. In 2021, we worked with over 45 clients and partners, including many of the dopest organizations in the social sector. For example, in 2021, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we led a process to award $1.4M in grants to Black-led nonprofits advancing economic opportunity and equitable outcomes in the American workforce. This included connecting to 600 LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC-led Black organizations on the frontlines of the economic justice movement. We’re also blessed to employ and partner with some of the best minds in the social change field. For example, in 2021, we welcomed Phillip Agnew to our team as an Organizer in Residence and Frontline alumnus Brian Kennedy joined the U.S. Department of Treasury.


Although much has changed since Marcus founded Frontline, liberation is still our North Star. Thus, in addition to helping our clients achieve their organizational goals, we leverage our consulting services, which include strategic planning, evaluation and learning, innovation, and our Equity Footprint to help our philanthropic clients become better partners to the Black and Brown organizations that they serve. And we continue to directly support Black-led and other organizations that are committed to creating a more just world. Our “Why” is what gets us up in the morning. It’s also what makes us different from other firms.


When I think about the future of our organization, I feel excited and wary. Yes, we are blessed to work with an amazing crew. But, as Aiko Bethea, Senior Director for Frontline would say, “white supremacy is the water that we swim in” and it continues to wreak havoc on communities. For example, a new report called, Mismatched: Philanthropy’s Response to the Call for Racial Justice from the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity shows that, “Even with the growth in funding [for racial equity and racial justice], for every dollar awarded by foundations for work in the United States in 2018, only 6 cents went to racial equity work and only a penny to racial justice work.” In this environment, building a consulting firm to advance liberation is an enormous task. And there is still no road map to guide us.


Then I remember my mom.


One of her favorite quotes was, “God looks out for fools and babies.” She didn’t mince words and was fond of reciting it when I messed up. Lucky for me, she believed that mistakes weren’t the end of the world and that God loves to see folks growing and going.


The brilliance (and foolishness!) of Frontline is that we still believe we can make a difference for Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color in spite of white supremacy. And even – maybe especially – when we make missteps. Our “failures” enable us to innovate and are part of what makes us good partners to our clients and the communities we hold dear.


I don’t know exactly what the future holds for Frontline but I do know that we will succeed if we continue to:

  • Do work that is aligned with our values
  • Embody liberatory practices and show up as our whole selves
  • Put the brilliance of Black, Indigenous, and other folks of color into the “center of the miracle”

In short, we are following the path our ancestors made, and extending it into the future of our wildest imaginations.


Thank you for taking this liberation journey with us, and working with us to redefine what it takes to build a great consulting company. We look forward to learning and growing with you in the years to come.


In solidarity,

Melissa DeShields

CEO and Partner


Our 2021 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 2021.