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Historic Human of the Hilltop: Romeo B. Garrett stood up for change and justice

Dr. Romeo B. Garrett is a name that is synonymous at Bradley University with diversity and inclusion, as his name is on the building that houses the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI). Fittingly, the story of Garrett’s journey to Bradley and his impact on the greater Peoria community is one worthy of admiration.

Romeo B. Garrett, who died March 23, 2000, was the first African American to receive a master’s degree at Bradley University and the first to serve as a professor, teaching sociology. He came to Peoria because his sister-in-law Dr. Maude Sanders, who was the first African American female doctor in Peoria, encouraged him to.

When he came to Bradley and realized there was a lack of African American history in most textbooks, Garrett took it upon himself to document all of their accomplishments.

A sampling of his collection was called, “The Black Experience in America” which was displayed at the Peoria Public Library. Through all of these accomplishments, the man had a passion for making the surrounding community a better place.

Garrett was an associate pastor at Zion Baptist Church located on W. Martin Luther King Junior Drive in downtown Peoria. The current pastor at the church, Samuel Duren, recalls Garrett as a gentle, soft-spoken man who was strong, in his words.

“He was always involved in social justice and documenting history of African Americans’ contributions in the Peoria area,” Duren said.

Duren said it was his presence and leadership that’s missed the most; The impact Garrett left on the Zion Baptist community was deep and Duren said that his high scholarly character was his most admirable quality.

“For me, [it was] his continued growth of education and wisdom,” Duren said. “He was a personable, gentle leader and was always willing to share and teach.”

Regarding what has happened in the United States in the past few years concerning social justice, Duren said that he would imagine Garrett would use a phrase to help those trying to make sense of everything going on.

“He would say ‘Keep on, keeping on in the Lord and in what is right and what is just,’” Duren said.

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