The Rev. Gerald Arnold first came to Evansville in 1986, working in international sales for Bristol-Myers. Since, his involvement with the community bridged the gap between local groups, businesses, and politics to achieve justice and equity.
Being a licensed minister — Arnold currently preaches at Independence Baptist Church at 2301 W. Virginia St. — gave him a unique insight into the problems facing Evansville residents, especially its Black community. He was elected president of the local NAACP in 1996. He recently handed the reins to the Rev. Connie Baltzell, who became president in October 2022.
“Evansville has been nice to me,” Arnold says. “I felt that my best opportunity would be here, a place I could make a contribution to.”
His 25 years leading the NAACP were impactful. He helped create the Evansville Diversity Distinguished Lecture Series, bringing together area banks, corporations, higher education institutions, unions, and government agencies to create it. He landed a high-profile speaker for the inaugural lecture in former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, and subsequent speakers have included retired NBA star Magic Johnson, rapper and actress Queen Latifah, and the late musician Harry Belafonte.
As NAACP president, Arnold has helped lead the charge to ensure equity across a wide range of issues, including housing and health services. When Toyota began building its plant in Princeton, Indiana, Arnold pushed for collaboration with Black-owned businesses. More recently, he advocated for the building of a pedestrian bridge on U.S. Highway 41 at Washington Avenue, where Benjamin Bosse High School and Washington Middle School students often cross.
“We partner with people who we think can make a change and uplift things that will be beneficial to the Black community in particular,” he says but stresses that “the NAACP is for everyone.”
Issues persist such as housing, which he says was “then and still is the biggest need,” and diversity. He stays involved with the NAACP as the Evansville chapter’s legal redress chair and on the state level as the chair of the Housing Committee for Indiana.
Arnold also often mentors youth at the CenterPoint Energy YMCA at 1930 S. Garvin St.
“It is the best investment a person can make, in our kids,” he says.