by Jacqueline Rachev
Julio Romero, 31, lost his way in high school but now is devoted to making sure others stay on the right track. He grew up in a nice neighborhood and attended the Belmont Lakeview, Ill., Corps, but he also was exposed to drug activity and gangs to which his older brother belonged. Though his brother made sure the younger siblings weren’t involved, there was an incident in high school that set Julio on a path to self-destruction.
One evening while waking to Burger King, Julio was stopped by police and questioned about a crime. “Even though I wasn’t involved, I was beaten and detained. At that moment, I stopped caring,” he said. “I figured if I was going to be accused of doing the crime, I might as well do it.” He started selling marijuana and cocaine, keeping it a secret from his family.
In his junior year, his brother was arrested and sent to prison for three years, accelerating Julio’s spiral into gang activity. “My brother was almost a father figure to me,” he said. “I looked up to him and then he was just gone.” Julio felt the need to “step up” and began selling drugs to make money.
His trouble culminated in his senior year during a fight with a gang member who attacked a family friend which led to three days in jail and a conviction.
“I heard the voices of my parents and my youth pastors in my head saying, ‘Why are you acting this way? This isn’t who you are,’” he said. He knew his life had to change. Consequences were piling up; he couldn’t graduate with his class and had a hard time finding a job due to the felony on his record.
A father at 19, Julio was tempted to go back to his old ways to support his family, but instead he turned to The Salvation Army, where he was given the second chance he was praying for.
He was hired for seasonal employment as a driver for the Chicago Lawn Corps Christmas kettle campaign—a breakthrough which opened doors for him to apply for an IT position at Metropolitan Divisional Headquarters the next year.
During the interview, he laid his past on the table: “I just told them everything that happened,” Julio said. After his boss went to bat for him and the extensive vetting process, he was hired and has been in the department ever since.
“It’s like coming home again. I want to be here,” he said.
Today, Julio willingly shares his testimony. “I want to share my story and my blessings with others,” he said. “It’s hard to tell someone who’s had doors closed in their face to have faith, but I’m an example of good things happening.”
Julio, who attends the Chicago Mayfair Corps, also works as part of a team to positively affect the lives of teens at the Chicago LaVillita Corps, making sure they avoid the pitfalls he encountered as a young man. In fact, he has been responsible for several students going to college and embracing opportunities to improve their futures.