In 1970, he became the first African American to enroll in Baylor’s graduate program in the department of religion. During his time in that program, he became assistant director of the university’s Upward Bound program, which helps high school students from low-income families prepare for college.
In 1976, Gilbert became the first African American elected to the Waco Independent School District Board. He also was a champion of women in ministry, being the first African American Baptist pastor to license a female minister.
In September 2020, the department of religion in Baylor University’s College of Arts & Sciences announced the establishment of the Robert L. Gilbert Scholar in Religion Graduate Stipend. The Gilbert Scholar in Religion will receive an annually enhanced stipend of $6,000 above the base stipend of $20,000, with full tuition remission for up to five years (a package of about $250,000 over that period).