Our 2021 Year End Highlights

December 16, 2021 Melissa DeShields




If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. African Proverb


At Frontline, our people are our most important asset and we prize the ability to work with such a diverse crew. In 2021, we welcomed several new folks to our team, including:

  • Philip Agnew, our first Organizer in Residence – read this blog post to learn more.
  • Tracey Allard, Senior Director
  • Amber Banks, Senior Director
  • James Điền Bui, Senior Consultant
  • Monique Gamble,  Consultant
  • Raymundo Garcia,  Associate Consultant
  • Jouapag Lee,  Consultant
  • Nadia Owusu, our first Director of Storytelling
  • Tessa Richardson, Finance Associate
  • Eli Washington, Advancement Manager

We also celebrated the success of folks who left to pursue new adventures, including:

  • Celeste Davis, former Senior Consultant, is now serving as Chief Health Policy Officer for the Baltimore City Health Department.
  • Brian Kennedy, former Consultant, is now serving as Policy Advisor at the U.S Department of Treasury.

Frontliners are consultants. They are also activists, scholars, advocates, coaches, strategists, and artists. For example:

  • Aiko Bethea, Senior Director, is Forbes’ top-ranked DEI consultant
  • Micah Gilmer, Co-Founder and Senior Partner, is serving as Interim Chief Executive Officer for the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation
  • Marion Johnson, Senior Consultant, has her eyes set on public service and ran for Durham city council in 2021
  • Nadia Owusu, Director of Storytelling, is an award-winning author

Learn more about our amazing team here






“I have always thought that what is needed is the development of people who are interested not in being leaders as much as in developing leadership in others.”

-Ella Baker


If liberation is the “why” of Frontline, consulting is our “how.” In 2021, we were proud to help 45 clients innovate, learn, and transform. Below are highlights of work in each of our practice areas. Learn more about our consulting services here



Equity Footprint

In order to advance environmental health, corporations must assess and address their carbon footprints. Similarly, in order to advance equity and justice for Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color, organizations must assess their equity practices. Our Equity Footprint is a powerful tool for helping philanthropic organizations, in particular, determine where they are and how they can advance equity across seven key dimensions – organizational culture, grantmaking, investments, leadership and governance, operations, communication, and evaluation and learning.

Learn more about and download our Equity Footprint.

Equity Footprint


Spotlight: Lenfest Institute

In 2020, we partnered with the Lenfest Institute to audit and improve its equity footprint to better serve its constituents in Philadelphia and beyond. According to their site, “It’s not enough for journalism organizations and funders to interrogate our history — we need to recognize that equity begins at home…The outcomes from this experience will guide our internal equity work and also influence our approach to grantmaking and partnerships in Philadelphia and nationally.”

Learn more about that engagement here.


We also partnered with the News Integrity Initiative (NII) at CUNY’s Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism to “examine the need and potential for equity in journalism and, specifically, journalism philanthropy.

“This engagement was an opportunity for us to demonstrate how our capacity to center DEI expands beyond the interior focus of a particular organization and across the community of organizations and entities that spans an entire industry.”

—Marion Johnson, Consultant, Frontline Solutions

Read our report, EQUITY FIRST: Transforming Journalism and Journalism Philanthropy in a New Civic Age.



Strategic Planning

We help organizations identify their north star by listening to all their stakeholders and considering first those directly impacted. Then, we facilitate equitable decision-making processes across varying roles and power dynamics.

Spotlight: Philanthropic Collective to Combat Anti-Blackness and Realize Racial Justice (the Collective)

Frontline partnered with the Philanthropic Collective to Combat Anti-Blackness and Realize Racial Justice (the Collective), a new funder consortium, to denounce anti-Blackness and racism and advance racial justice in Minnesota’s philanthropic sector. The Collective was launched in response to the murder of George Floyd and uprisings across the nation. Specifically, we helped the Collective to:

  • Understand the opportunities and obstacles in Minnesota’s funding ecosystem
  • Identify strategic opportunities to have impact in combating anti-Blackness and advancing racial justice
  • Refine the goals and structure of the Collective.



Evaluation & Learning

We partner with our clients to create equitable evaluation processes and learning communities that help leaders learn to get better results.

Spotlight: Nellie Mae Foundation

In the philanthropic sector, grant evaluations have long been used as a stick to punish grantees versus a tool for helping nonprofit and foundations improve and grow. This spring, Frontline was thrilled to partner with the Nellie Mae Foundation and its Community Advisory Group and grantees to design an evaluation framework to guide the evaluation of its new grantmaking strategy and inform the institution’s grant application process.




We work with clients to launch groundbreaking initiatives, pioneer new approaches, and document emerging ideas.


Spotlight: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation



In 2021, we partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to launch Elevate, an initiative to support on-the-ground work to remove structural barriers and accelerate economic mobility for communities of color. After reviewing over 500 applications from organizations across the country, we selected 13 organizations, including:


  1. Springboard to Opportunities (Jackson, MS)
  2. Change Labs (Tuba City, AZ)
  3. Black & Pink National (Omaha, NE)
  4. Casa de Salud (Albuquerque, NM)
  5. A New Way of Life Reentry Project (Los Angeles, CA)
  6. Custom Collaborative (New York, NY)
  7. Collaborative Healing Initiative Within Communities (Aurora, CO)
  8. Center for Cooperative Development and Solidarity (Boston, MA)
  9. Power Coalition for Equity and Justice (New Orleans, LA)
  10. Valley Community Interpreters (Albuquerque, NM)
  11. Ujamaa Place (St. Paul, MN)
  12. Bronx Cooperative Initiative (Bronx, NY)
  13. Hmong American Farmers Association (West St. Paul, MN)


In addition to receiving over $1M in funding, awardees will also participate in a year-long learning community aimed at building relationships, sharing promising approaches, and providing technical assistance.


Learn more about Elevate.






“The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” 

— Ida B. Wells


At Frontline, we talk a lot about “learning out loud”. For us that means being excellent partners to our clients and, when appropriate, sharing what we’re learning with the broader field. Check out some of the commentary, research, and analysis on equity, philanthropy and more that we’ve helped develop for the field.



Also, be sure to listen to our Sweet 16 podcast.






“When I liberate myself, I liberate others. If you don’t speak out 

ain’t nobody going to speak out for you.”

– Fannie Lou Hamer


We’re looking forward to a new year of celebrating Black brilliance, and supporting and following the lead of Black communities. And we hope that you will join us. Below are a few ways that you can get involved and stay in touch.



Black-founded and led, we’re a diverse team of activists, scholars, advocates, coaches, strategists, and artists. We draw on these multifaceted perspectives and lived experiences to engage with organizations in the journey toward their boldest, most expansive visions.


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

Frontline Solutions is no ordinary consulting firm. In her year-end letter, our CEO Melissa DeShields reflects on why liberation is our North Star, and how we’re guided by people fighting for a more just world.