Truth, Courage, and Leadership

Novella Smith Arnold has lived in Memphis for over 33 years. She came here after a distinguished and pioneering radio career in Houston, to join Stax Records as production chief. She has continued to be heard on numerous radio stations here in Memphis, including a show for senior citizens called, “The Golden Years.” She and Rufus Thomas were inducted into the Smithsonian’s Black Radio Hall of Fame.

An event in her life compelled her to promise, some 20-odd years ago, to devote herself to community service. Novella has directed, and in some cases founded, a number of outreach ministries under the auspices of local churches. She became a minister to the imprisoned for the Criminal Justice Ministry, volunteer chaplain to the downtown jail, interim chaplain at the Mark Luttrell State Prison, and during seminary training, a volunteer at the Med.

Her mission has always been to help “the least of these”, to be the voice for the voiceless, and an advocate for the disenfranchised. That would include prisoners, but also the homeless, the sick and mentally ill, the mentally challenged, and especially the children. She was the founder of the Street Ministries at Calvary Church, and she now serves as their children’s chaplain.

In these roles Novella has often had to enlist the aid of those who have the power and resources to aid her cause. She is therefore on a first name basis with most of the attorneys, judges, doctors, philanthropists, and public officials from several administrations.

Novella is famous for courage and persistence, and for telling the truths that people might not want to hear. Ten years ago, she single-handedly exposed the gross mismanagement of prisoners with HIV/AIDS at the county jail. For this, she was thrown out by the chief jailer.

The following year, she produced and starred in a public service announcement entitled, “Is My Momma Ever Coming Back.” That PSA first exposed to the nation the pandemic of HIV/AIDS migrating from the jails into the African-American community.

She was recognized as Woman of Achievement in Courage for 1997.

She is a certified HIV/AIDS counselor and instructor. Under the late Judge Robert McRae, Jr, she has served as a Federal mediator for the jails.

Through all of this, she also served as member and chairwoman of the Shelby County Beer Board.

It is fair to say that “Chaplain Arnold,” as she is known by many, is a Memphis institution.