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Executive Director Tracy Raphael Featured in Nashville Voyager

Updated: Feb 7

Check out the feature on The Lantern Network's Executive Director Tracy Raphael by the Nashville Voyager! Link to article above. Article text is posted below, published on Nashville Voyager's site.

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tracy Raphael.

Hi Tracy, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today.

I am Tracy Raphael, and my life’s journey has been a tapestry woven with purpose and passion, rooted in my upbringing in Columbus, Ohio, during the 1970s and 1980s. Growing up in an all-black community, I attended a local public elementary school nestled within our neighborhood. My parents, despite never finishing high school themselves, were exceptional providers – my dad, a welder, and my mother, a licensed practical nurse. Their commitment to hard work and education became my guiding light, their sacrifices laying the foundation upon which I would build my future.

The turning point in my life came through a dear friend and classmate, who introduced me to a nonprofit organization that provided professional development programs for minority college juniors and seniors. This experience proved transformative. As a student studying Accounting and Finance, I was unaware of the various career paths available to me. Through this organization, I learned how to craft a compelling resume, develop essential job interview skills, navigate corporate culture, and grasp the unwritten rules that could either propel or hinder my career. Thanks to their guidance and support, I not only competed for but also secured an internship at Ernst & Young. Graduation marked a significant milestone as I was offered a full-time position with the firm, setting me on a trajectory toward a fulfilling and successful career.

Fast forward to today, I stand as the Co-Founder and Executive Director of The Lantern Network (TLN), a nonprofit organization with a mission deeply rooted in my journey. Inspired by the historic Underground Railroad lanterns that guided enslaved individuals toward freedom, TLN now serves as a virtual safehouse, igniting the potential of Black American Youth on their path to economic freedom. With over two decades of experience as a trainer, coach, speaker, and consultant, I embarked on a mission to make a difference across multiple industries. From start-ups to Fortune 100 companies, I became a proven leader with a strong background in finance and accounting, stemming from my double majors at Franklin University in Columbus, Ohio. In the manufacturing realm, I trained thousands of employees in a startup factory, pioneering a two-week orientation program that maintained a remarkable employee turnover rate of less than 3% for the first four years. My expertise extended to the automotive industry, where I trained over 600 dealership employees in multi-cultural diversity, fostering better engagement with customers from all walks of life. But my impact reached even further. I transformed fundamental business processes in automotive dealerships, driving increased sales volumes and improved customer experiences. I streamlined Procure-to-Pay and Account-to-Report processes, reducing costs, eliminating late payments, and ensuring compliance with industry standards.

My commitment to personal growth led me to become a Certified John Maxwell Trainer, Speaker, and Coach, and a graduate of the National Automotive Dealer Association General Manager program. Before founding my consulting practice, I worked for Honda R&D and founded and managed a Keller Williams Realty franchise. I developed and deployed my skills at renowned organizations such as Alcoa, Chevrolet, Ernst & Young, Ford, GE, Honda, Hyundai, McDonald’s, Toyota, and Volkswagen.

In the grand narrative of my life, my story is one of unwavering dedication, illuminating paths for others to follow, just like the lanterns of the Underground Railroad. I am a driving force, a mentor, and a catalyst for positive change, shaping a brighter future for generations to come through TLN, where I pay forward the opportunities and mentorship that transformed my own life.

Can you talk to us about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back, would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?

My journey has been quite a journey, one marked by determination in the face of significant challenges. Growing up in an all-black community, my parents had never navigated the path to college, and as a result, I had to figure out the college application process entirely on my own. Their guidance was limited, and I was left to chart my course alone. Adding to the complexity of my journey, I selected a profession I had never encountered before. I had never set foot inside a corporate office, and I didn’t have any connections to accountants. It felt like venturing into the unknown.

What made this journey even more challenging was that I lacked critical thinking skills. I could follow instructions once given, but I had to learn through experience how to think through a situation from beginning to end. It was a process of trial and error, and it sometimes felt like I was missing essential skills.

During my time at Ernst & Young, I encountered a pivotal learning experience. My senior instructed me to ask specific questions of the client and bring back the answers. However, my supervisor often asked follow-up questions, requiring me to return to the client multiple times to obtain the necessary information. This repeated cycle led to feelings of inadequacy, as I had not initially thought of the questions myself. But, I was determined to grow and adapt. I embraced the process of learning from my mistakes and gradually developed the ability to ask thoughtful questions and gather the needed information succinctly. It was a transformative phase that taught me not only about my work but also about the importance of perseverance and continuous self-improvement. My journey is a testament to the power of determination and resilience, and it has ultimately paved the way for me to succeed in a field I once found unfamiliar.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about The Lantern Network?

Imagine a world where every underestimated young person has the opportunity to shine, break through barriers, and achieve their full potential. That’s the vision of The Lantern Network. We are a nonprofit organization dedicated to igniting change and illuminating the futures of young Black Americans who possess incredible talent and intelligence but lack the necessary resources and connections to succeed. Our mission is to bridge the gaps in economic and educational freedom, creating a more inclusive and competitive society for all.

Through our mentorship programs, we connect aspiring young individuals with experienced mentors who offer guidance, support, and career advice. We also provide entrepreneurship initiatives, equipping future business leaders with the training, access to capital, and mentorship needed to thrive. And we’re not just focused on the present – we’re building a nationwide network of corporations, sponsors, colleges, universities, and influential individuals who believe in the power of investing in these young minds.

We love surprises, fun facts, and unexpected stories. Is there something you can share that might surprise us?

While dating my husband, I went skydiving from an airplane at 14,000 feet in the morning and subsequently engaged in a helicopter ride along with the San Diego police department during the afternoon. While on board the helicopter, an urgent police call was received. During the flight, I spotted the individual whom the police were searching for, ultimately leading to the successful apprehension of the subject.

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