Anthony Romero was first introduced to his future vocation when an attorney with his father’s labor union helped file a grievance on behalf of his father, who had been turned down for a promotion at the hotel where he worked, on the premise that his English was inadequate. The union lawyer’s appeal won, and Anthony’s father was hired for a new, higher-paying position. The increased pay, in turn, provided the family with a range of new opportunities.
“Just because of this one lawyer's ability to champion…to make sure that a wrong was made right, our lives fundamentally changed,” he recalled in an interview with the Academy of Achievement. “And in that one moment, I understood the role that a lawyer could play in people's lives, and perhaps that was my first inspiration to be a lawyer for doing good.”
In the interview, Anthony added that his parents did not have the opportunity to go to college themselves, but served as a bedrock of inspiration and support for his own aspirations. “[My parents] always made me believe that I could make a difference, and that…there was nothing that was not attainable for me,” he said.
With this support, he went on to become the first in his family to graduate from high school or go to college. He received a scholarship to Princeton University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He then attended Stanford Law School, with the aid of an HSF Scholarship.
After law school, he joined the Ford Foundation as a program officer for civil rights and racial justice, eventually serving as the foundation's Global Director for Human Rights and International Cooperation.
Since 2001, he has served as the Executive Director of the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that “works to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the US Constitution.” Anthony is ACLU's sixth executive director, and the first Latino and openly gay man, to serve in that capacity.
For his work, Anthony has received dozens of public service awards, including Planned Parenthood’s Margaret Sanger Award, and was named one of Time magazine's “25 Most Influential Hispanics in America.” He also received an honorary doctorate from the City University of New York School of Law.
He co-authored the book, In Defense of Our America: The Fight for Civil Liberties in the Age of Terror, and was featured in the HBO documentary, The Latino List.
In his interview with the Academy of Achievement, he had this to say about the American dream: “It's not about the next good job; it's not about the next promotion; it's not about the next fancy car. [It’s]…about the potential of the human spirit… That even the most humble among us have a lot to offer…and can dream.”