So why did Frontline Solutions name a fellowship after a farmer?
There are plenty of better-known activists and social entrepreneurs that the title of this fellowship could have honored over an Alabama farmer named Hilliard P. Jenkins. Luminaries who have wowed the nonprofit world with innovations or theories of social change, for instance. Erudite thinkers whose bestselling books expound the next Big Idea. Frontline Partner Ryan Bowers conceived of honoring Hilliard P. Jenkins as a way of recognizing a type of social change leader who too often goes unnoticed.
That is not to say that Jenkins was an unknown. There were many esteemed labels for Senior Partner Marcus Littles’ late grandfather—accomplished farmer, entrepreneur, civic leader, patriarch. Until six years ago, “community organizer” or “political activist” weren’t on the list. But then a new perspective on Jenkins emerged.
Littles, at that time an associate foundation officer supporting programs in the areas of racial justice and rural development, realized that his work was a continuation of his grandfather’s public service in his native Loxley, Alabama. Farming may have been Jenkins’ livelihood—and as manager of one of the state’s richest Black-owned farms during the Jim Crow era, he truly excelled—but through Jenkins’ focus on using his economic influence for the common good, Loxley residents became empowered.
As a young boy, Littles enjoyed getting out of the classroom on an occasional Tuesday, riding around with his granddaddy in his truck as he picked up different Loxley residents. Today, he knows those election-day rides that Jenkins provided significantly helped elevate the political status of a long-disenfranchised community. So were the long car rides to Alabama Democratic Conference meetings, the late-night phone calls, and the innumerable thankless tasks that drove a movement to expand the Black Southern vote.
Jenkins was never one to throw around the social change lingo we commonly hear today. No one called the work that he did “community engagement” or “asset-based resource development.” So from one perspective, naming an internship after him was not an obvious choice. It certainly wasn’t for Littles.
But Frontline Solutions, which prides itself as a “community of social change leaders,” also does not always speak the consultants’ language. Genuine relationships drive its work more than any business model does. And it is the values, ethics, and leadership style of a Hilliard P. Jenkins that Frontline partners have identified and seek to live out.
“There are countless millions of social change leaders who are often overlooked as the real engine of change,” says Micah Gilmer, a Frontline Partner who spearheaded the fellowship’s design and recruitment process. “We stand on the shoulders of women, men, girls and boys like Hilliard Jenkins who made even the idea of a venue like Frontline Solutions possible.” With this HPJ fellowship, partners and team members look forward to sharing the Jenkins’ model of change with the inaugural six Fellows and their successors.
Read more about Hilliard P. Jenkins here.