The Change Consulting team in April 2022. Photo credit: Jean Melesaine
I started Change Consulting in February 2009; at the time, I was a solo consultant working at my kitchen table and, more occasionally than not, at many coffee shops around Oakland and San Francisco. My mantra was that all I needed was my laptop, and I could make it do what it do. From its inception, Change (team of one) got to work on all sorts of exciting projects to address issues impacting Black communities and communities of color. One project was making sure Black voters and communities were being engaged in the statewide campaign in California to stop prop 8, a measure that attempted to ban same-sex marriage in California. Another was the launch of the Ecocenter at Heron’s Head Park, a unique educational facility in San Francisco’s Bayview that combines environmental education, experience-based learning and habitat restoration.
At the time, my focus was primarily on providing earned media services and counsel to racial justice and social justice groups and leaders, building on my experience as a journalist and as an in-house communications lead helping drive earned media for an elected official. Then and now, I believe in the power of media to set the narrative on issues and topics, and I have always been passionate about interventions that allow our communities to shape the agenda in public conversations.
It wouldn’t be until 2015, six years later, that I began seriously considering building a team, for multiple reasons. On the one hand, I had purely selfish motives – I no longer wanted to work alone. I wanted a team to collaborate and share the load with, especially as I considered growing my family. On the other hand, with more capacity, I could better serve the incredible leaders and changemakers who, against all odds, were pushing against the status quo – and imagining and making possible a new world – one that was more fair, more equitable, more just. So, I hired Change’s first full-time team member. Today, we are a team of 13 full-time folks, 70 percent people of color, and almost 40 percent Black. It is a team full of brilliant, committed and visionary folks who excel at their craft, and the fact that I get to work with them inspires me every day. They truly reflect our core value of delivering excellence with heart.
As our team grows, our capabilities grow and deepen, as well. While earned media continues to be a focus, today we work primarily in three service areas: strategy, helping build research-based strategy and messaging for campaigns, organizations and leaders, as well as brand frameworks, naming and taglines; engagement and hands-on implementation with digital, earned media and content; and helping build the capacity of the groups we work with through one-to-one and one-to-many trainings. I have been part of too many efforts that saw communications as a vanity project, and seen too many communications plans that sat on the shelf, gathering dust, never to see the light of day. Our theory of change is that, if we can provide both strategy and hands-on implementation support for groups as a continuum, we can be part of seeing smart communications come to life, which will help make real systemic and material change for our communities not only possible but inevitable.
The context in which we work has shifted, too. I started consulting in the aftermath of President Obama’s hopeful campaign for change. I was so moved by the wave of new voices that engaged in the electoral process, and by new leadership that was so markedly different from previous ones in our country’s history. Since then, we have seen the overt rise of the white supremacist backlash to the country’s progress, with Trump’s presidency as an inflection point and uniquely harmful moment that has unleashed (again) the worst of this country’s sentiments on race. White supremacy and anti-Blackness are nothing new in America, and what we are seeing today echoes the regressive time after reconstruction. Still, despite the real challenges ahead of us, I continue to be in awe of courageous and committed racial justice leaders who keep pointing us to a day yet to come, where America can one day be what it has long aspired to be. At Change, I think a lot about how communications can truly make racial justice possible, and increasingly I am hoping we can focus on building democratic and economic power to address the root causes of injustice, not just its symptoms.
I won’t lie. Building an organization in the midst of COVID, with the ongoing and seemingly almost daily assault on our collective well-being, and especially on Black and Brown folks, is not easy. Building a company as a Black woman and as someone who doesn’t come from money (for a majority of my life, I have experienced the opposite of abundance) is not easy. But, “nevertheless, we persist” because the wins are worth it. Our communities are worth it. Our future is worth the struggle.
As we grow as an agency, we also are trying our best to build an organization that cares for its people, where justice is part of the DNA and the bones, not just its communications. We are intentionally a multi-racial group, with Black folks and Black concerns at the center. We do things like quarterly shutdowns, work from home and mental health stipends, and extra sick time for COVID. Most importantly, because none of us are perfect, we are committed to seeing each other’s humanity and feeling our way through, remaining flexible and curious about what unfolds. In our consulting style, we are relationship based and we listen first and foremost. We aim to be high impact and low drama and ego.
Fourteen years later, this is what Change looks and feels like now. For those who have joined us on this journey along the way, and for those who we have yet to meet, allow us to reintroduce ourselves. Thank you for teaching us, partnering with us, and trusting us. You are the reason I – and we – do what I do.