NYU Alumni & Friends Connect

September 15, 2022

A leader and healer in his community, Camilo Romero helps at-risk youth heal by telling their untold stories through workshops, children’s books, and community murals. His volunteer-run initiative empowers children by allowing them to recognize themselves in others and foster hope of a shared future.

alumni profile: Camilo Romero

“My time [in Colombia], then and now, is beautifully heart-breaking with its magical realism that can be both lush and lonely, a synesthesia of loss and laughter.” This duality in life is something Camilo Romero (LAW ’12) (He/Él) grew up with consistently. Having his roots and cultural identity in Colombia, while living a childhood and experiencing a majority of his education in the U.S., he absorbed values that aligned individually with these societies. His background in both sociology and law defined another balance in his perspective of the world. He also juggled a mindset of healing and mindfulness with the drive to organize and advocate for human rights. These dualities led him to the trauma-informed healing work he now does through his peace building initiative, ReGeneración.

Romero’s mission is to grow peace in youth that don’t have the privilege to experience it. He and his team provide them with the right tools and resources to help them feel seen, realize they have a lot in common with others in the community, and tap into a sense of kinship and belonging to build upon for the future. This initiative is ever growing, and he hopes to pass along his leadership to others on his team as well, so they can focus on thriving and growing their outreach. 

Below, Romero gives us a look into his world and how his time at NYU shaped his work today.

Could you tell us a little about how growing up in Colombia was for you? We understand you had some pivotal experiences that shaped your career today.

I am an “anchor baby” of sorts—and proudly so. My mother and her mother came to the U.S. before I was born to give my sister and me a chance at a better life.

Colombia grew up in me more than I grew up in Colombia. Most of my family remains in the region around Bogotá where I began to learn the value of connection to nature and to one another. My time there, then and now, is beautifully heart-breaking with its magical realism that can be both lush and lonely, a synesthesia of loss and laughter.

Most of my schooling took place in the U.S. where I began to learn the value of understanding feelings and harnessing them into thought and action. My study in sociology and law, my work in community organizing and human rights advocacy, my practice in mindfulness and story-healing, are all parts of me that stem from being from here and there (and sometimes from neither) and the discernment that duality inspires.

How is your peace building initiative, ReGeneración Colombia, structured and how does it empower at-risk youth living in war-torn regions? What are some resources provided for the children?

By us. For us. Peace will not be given. We will have to grow it.

ReGeneración is a volunteer-run initiative centered on trauma-informed healing through the telling of our untold stories in the form of workshops, children’s books, and community murals. Our empowerment model is based on recognizing oneself in others, thereby fostering a sense of kinship, of a shared future despite the shards of the past.

How did your time at NYU influence your decision to start this initiative, and how has the program grown since?

“NYU, the global university.” That branding is true, and it is lived on campus—even at our more bougie law school—where I met kind and brave role models who seek to leave the world a better place.

In fact, I never thought I would attend NYU Law because of the protests I had organized at and against NYU for the university's tacit complicity in the human rights violations of the Coca-Cola Company and paramilitary forces in Colombia. That campaign against “Killer Coke” reached global proportions and brought me to boardrooms and dorm rooms all around campus. Years later, my experience was generously welcomed by the law school “in the public interest” and the advocacy, inside and outside the classroom, continues.

Do you have a favorite project that ReGeneracion does?
The next one. My heart will always belong to our first project—the children’s books—since it is how we began. My body is forever connected to our second project—the sociodrama workshops—since we have traveled the world with them. My spirit is most represented by our third project—the Poderosas mural project—since we celebrate women warriors, including those in my family.

As we evolve, my personal vision is that I become obsolete, both by passing on leadership to others and that some day, not too far from now, we may be less focused on surviving and more focused on thriving. All of us have our own paths and speeds, which is why I look forward to the next projects the generation creates.

Camilo Romero and company

In addition to training in civic engagement, artistic expression, and peer agency, how has your work changed in recent years, as a result of the pandemic and conversations around social justice? 

Everyone is going through something. It may not be visible. It may not be known. It may not be understood. But no matter our identity and privilege in this life, trauma is in and around us. We, as individuals and as a collective, have been given this lesson by this global pandemic and these popular uprisings.

My sincere (and naive) hope in early 2020 was that the coronavirus would finally help humanity rally around a common non-human enemy to take care of our planet and ourselves. I was wrong. This is why we can’t have nice things! But, nonetheless, the lessons are there for us to put into daily practice. So let’s proceed with grace for the wounded, empathy for the outsider, and self-awareness for the imperfect.

Would you please share your most memorable moment(s) from NYU?

The final class of Derrick Bell. The 6th floor of Furman Hall. The LACA Spring Dinners. Baseball as a Road to God with John [Sexton]. Interviewing in the restroom with Trevor [Morrison]. Superstorm Sandy. The investiture of Sonia Sotomayor. The founding of Metro LALSA. Hot yoga in the snow. The dog park and its discontents.

Those are just a few of the most memorable moments. Maybe I can share them next time I visit NYU. Or maybe in your next issue of Alumni & Friends Connect…

The world looks much different for today’s college students than when you graduated. If you could give one piece of advice to NYU’s newest alumni, the Class of 2022, what would it be?

Don’t take people’s advice. That includes mine. Why? Because wisdom is not taught, it is learned. So go ahead and experiment with an open mind and open heart. Let your curiosity and compassion guide you in this opportunity of life you have, and you will succeed, even if it feels like failure.

PS: That is not advice. It is just my truth in what I have learned thus far.