Photography by Liesbeth Powers. 

Tracey Nash-Huntley has an engineering degree from Georgia Tech, but she’s never worked professionally as an engineer. When she was a student at SMU, before transferring, she was discovered by Esprit, who offered a job modeling in a photo shoot. At the very least, she thought she would get a free trip to California. That was the start of a nearly 20-year career in the industry. She even modeled for a decade in New York, where she was able to support herself and help her husband through law school.

“If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere,” Nash-Huntley says.

Modeling wasn’t a childhood aspiration, but neither was engineering. She knew she wouldn’t be a doctor like her father because she couldn’t handle seeing a boy get stitches. She only decided on engineering after attending a summer program at what was then called the University of Missouri at Rolla. Before then, she didn’t know anything about engineering, and didn’t know any engineers. But now, as a member of the Dallas chapter of The Links, Incorporated, she mentors girls of color in middle and high school. One Saturday each month, she helps them learn about career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“You can’t be what you can’t see,” she says. “You can’t do what you’ve never known.”

The youngest of five daughters, Nash-Huntley grew up in a community in St. Louis where everyone had a connection to either her father or her aunt, Dr. Homer and Dr. Helen. Both of them were pediatricians who served inner-city residents. Though Nash-Huntley decided not to follow in her dad’s professional footsteps, family has been one of the most significant influences on her life. She and her sisters, who all have their own families now, still have a reunion at least once a year.

When it comes to work in philanthropy, perhaps the greatest role model was her mother, Ellene. She worked as a librarian, but was involved with the junior kindergarten program and was on the board of the Nursery Foundation. In addition, she participated in the St. Louis Links chapter and served as a girl scout leader for more than 20 years. She was also the first African-American woman to sit on the board of the Girl Scout Council of Greater St. Louis.

“It’s a lived experience, and it’s your life, and it’s your family,” Nash-Huntley says, “but then you realize how much of that makes you who you are, that sense of strong history.”

Like her mother, Nash-Huntley dedicates much of her time and talents to giving back to the community. Most recently, she became the board chair of the nonprofit New Friends New Life, which aids trafficked and exploited girls and women. In this role, she supports and advises the nonprofit’s CEO and upholds the commitment to #StandForHer. Nash-Huntley also serves on the board of the Goodwill Industries of Dallas and hopes to foster a collaboration between it and the nonprofit to help women find jobs. She’s also on the advisory board of the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics & Public Responsibility at SMU, where campus-wide discussions about social and racial equity are centered.

Our neighbor’s history of philanthropic work goes hand-in-hand with her leadership roles. She is a founding member of The Village Giving Circle, a group of nine African-American women who collect resources and give to organizations that directly assist African-American families. Since its beginning in 2017, the group has donated almost $1 million.

Nash-Huntley continues a family legacy of advocating for social and racial equity. Before her came people like her aunt, the first Black female pediatrician on the attending staff at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Nash-Huntley has watched those pioneers carefully. And it’s just as she says: “Good followers make good leaders.”

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