Gilchrist was the 6th of 8 children born to Columbus and Irene Gilchrist. Her father died when she was 2 years old. She graduated from Western-Olin High School in 1973 and enrolled at Manchester University in New Manchester, Indiana to study medical technology. She changed her major to communications before completing her bachelor's degree in 1978. While in school she interned at a radio station in Fort Wayne and was hired there after graduating.
Gilchrist co-founded the Birmingham Media Association in 1983, which became the Birmingham Association of Black Journalists (BABJ) after becoming an official chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists later that decade. In 1991 Gilchrist took on the role of night city editor for The Birmingham News. She left in 1993 to join the faculty of the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri.
In 1996 Gilchrist was hired as editor of the Boca Raton News in Boca Raton, Florida. In 1999 she moved to Chicago, Illinois to become deputy metro editor of the Chicago Sun-Times. She resigned in 2008 amid a second round of layoffs at the paper.
In 2017 Gilchrist completed a master’s degree in digital journalism at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. While there she worked as a contract assistant at the university's Lauinger Library.
- Daniel, Nicole S. (August 1, 2023) "Birmingham Native Phyllis Gilchrist Welcomes Journalists to City Where She Co-Founded BABJ." The Birmingham Times
- Phyllis Gilchrist at Linkedin.com