Young Harlem Filmmaker Tackles Health Disparities: “I Wanted To Save The World Through Stories”

It’s not every day when a person realizes their passion earlier in their lives, and for those people who do, it’s not certain they’ll go on to pursue their passion at all. Understandably, though. Sometimes life circumstances can call people to do other things in their life, but not in the case of Kecia Romiel.

Having recently graduated from Ithaca College earlier this year, this Harlem native storyteller made it as one of the top five finalists in The Cigna Foundation and Ghetto Film School (GFS) filmmaking competition.

The Cigna Foundation and GFS teamed up to host this competition amongst GFS’s young filmmakers to cultivate the next generation of American storytellers and to support local communities while shining a light on health disparities within New York City.

Of the five finalists, three were chosen to use video storytelling to highlight how a selection of Cigna Foundation grantee organizations create a positive impact in their community by working to eliminate health disparities.

Finishing off the competition in second place, Romiel created the film “Bridging the Gap,” which highlighted both Dr. Ina Vanderbroek and New York Botanical Garden’s research to work towards improving health care for New York’s immigrant Latino and Caribbean communities with the use of medicinal plants as part of traditional remedies along with modern medicine.

WATCH: Kecia Romiel’s Short Film, “Bridging The Gap” had the opportunity to speak with Romiel to discuss her work for the competition and how she always knew she wanted to be a storyteller. (BDO): How did your passion for storytelling develop?

Kecia Romiel (KR): My passion for storytelling developed at a young age. Every week my mom would bring home movies and we’d watch them as a family. I remember being so absorbed in each and every movie she’d bring home, especially the documentaries. I remember being really attached to the documentary films because they’d be so rich in truth but still had the strength of a narrative film. I wanted to save the world through stories. 

I also remember wanting to be a doctor or a veterinarian when I was little and then I wrote this poem in the fourth grade. Our teacher assigned us to write about two opposite things. I wrote about the sun and the moon, weaving it into this grand love story of how they met. My teacher loved it. After that, I wanted to be a writer – the kind of writer that tells heartening stories that bring their teacher to tears. I think that was when my love for storytelling began. 

BDO: The Cigna Foundation grantee organizations are working to eliminate health disparities. Is this what inspired you to enter the contest?

KR: Oh, yes. I was really struck by what the Cigna Foundation grantee organizations were doing in my own backyard. I studied environmental science in high school and wanted to be an environmental documentarian. Being the kind of student who loved taking care of plants and learning how to save our waterways in New York City, I grew increasingly curious about my family’s relationship and attributions to plant science.

My family is from Dominica, a small island in the Caribbean. For as long as I could remember my parents used plants for medicinal practices, whether it was cooking ginger to heal tummy aches or boiling cinnamon in a pot to help us sleep at night. What the New York Botanical Garden represents is what drew them to me. In a way they’re connected to my family’s history.