Wemimo Bright Jaiyesimi Named Inaugural Recipient of Robert L. Gilbert Scholar in Religion Graduate Fellowship

April 19, 2021

Contact: Terry Goodrich, Baylor University Media and Public Relations, 254-644-4155

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WACO, Texas (April 19, 2021) — Baylor University’s department of religion has announced that Wemimo Bright Jaiyesimi of Lagos, Nigeria, has been named the recipient of the inaugural Robert L. Gilbert Scholar in Religion Graduate Fellowship.

The fellowship is named for the Rev. Robert Gilbert, B.A. '67, the first Black graduate of Baylor University, along with Barbara Walker, B.A. ’67. In 1970, Gilbert became the first Black student to enroll in Baylor’s religion graduate program. As an influential educator, pastor and civil rights leader in the Waco area, Gilbert was the first Black member elected to the Waco Independent School District Board in 1976. He also was a champion of women in ministry, being the first Black Baptist pastor to license a female minister.

Jaiyesimi earned his B.S. in economics with First Class Honors from Lagos State University in 2012 and his M.Div. from Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary in 2017. He is currently a graduate student in interfaith studies at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David in Lampeter, the United Kingdom.

In his application for the fellowship, Jaiyesimi wrote: “Whilst I am not an African American like Rev. Gilbert, the same challenge of underrepresentation within the global theological academy which faced Rev. Gilbert confronts many Africans today.”

The Gilbert family was especially impressed with Jaiyesimi’s credentials. Gilbert’s son, Dr. Kenyatta Gilbert, who teaches homiletics at Howard Divinity School in Washington, D.C., observed that the family members admired Wemimo’s “clear articulation of why addressing the dearth of Black theological scholarship on missions from an African's perspective, hoping to wrest this work from the exclusive domain of white scholars, is terribly important work. Furthermore, his close consciousness of the colonial legacy of exploitation on the African continent makes his potential contribution all the more intriguing.”

Members of the Baylor faculty also were impressed with Jaiyesimi’s application.

“Wemimo is just the kind of graduate student we hope to attract,” said Natalie Carnes, Ph.D., associate professor of religion and theological area representative on the Religion Admissions Committee. “He is conversant in the major thinkers of Christian theology, attentive to the complexities of our world today and interested in bringing the two together in his work. The faculty of the theology and ethics area found conversations with Wemimo insightful and engaging, and we know that he will be a valued voice in our program. We are excited to welcome him to Baylor.”

“We are pleased to award Wemimo Jaiyesimi the first Robert L. Gilbert Scholar fellowship," said James Nogalski, Ph.D., director of graduate studies in religion. "His work to this point shows great potential, and it resonates well with the life and work of Rev. Gilbert.”

The Gilbert Fellowship is funded jointly by Baylor’s Graduate School.

Baylor Graduate School Dean Larry Lyon, Ph.D., said that awarding Jaiyesimi the fellowship is “one of the best ways I can imagine to honor the courage and accomplishment of Rev. Gilbert. The fellowship will influence generations of scholars in ways that will significantly promote greater justice and equity in the United States and around the world.”

As the Gilbert Scholar in Religion, Jaiyesimi will receive an annual fellowship of $6,000 above the base stipend of $20,000 and full tuition remission for up to five years, a $250,000 total package. He will begin his graduate studies in the theological area of the religion graduate program in fall 2021.

“I am deeply grateful to the department of religion and for the spirit which informs the initiative,” Jaiyesimi said.


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