After defeating his opponent for the position in a small Arkansas town, an 18-year-old college freshman is now the country’s youngest Black mayor.
Jaylen Smith, a recent Earle High School graduate, said that while he was “confident” he’d win the runoff election Tuesday, he was still surprised to learn of his victory. According to 2020 census data, he will be the mayor of Earle, a town of just under 2,000 people near Memphis, Tennessee.
“I felt so grateful! I had the craziest facial reaction when I won! It was such a blessing,” Smith told NBC News, adding that his parents are proud of him and have supported his campaign “every step of the way.”
According to The Hill, Smith received 218 votes, while his opponent, Nemi Matthews Sr., received 139.
Smith said he decided to run for mayor at the beginning of his senior year after being encouraged by his fellow student government association members. He stated that he is fully aware of the historic significance of his victory. “It feels fantastic. “This historical moment will be read about by generations and generations of people,” he said.
Smith stated that as mayor-elect, he intends to prioritize transportation, public safety, and the establishment of a major grocery store in the city. Smith is particularly passionate about improving residents’ access to food sources.
“We had one a long time ago, but it closed,” Smith lamented about the now-closed grocery store. “Our seniors don’t have transportation to get to and from West Memphis to get food. So it would be better to have a grocery store here in town.”
Smith, an Arkansas State University Mid-South student, announced the victory in a Facebook post that has been shared more than 800 times. He said he hopes his win will inspire other young people to get into politics.
“Go for it!” he said. “It would be good for more young people to step up to the plate and say, ‘I want to be the change. I want to be the leader people want to see in my community.’”
As a person with a learning disability, the young politician said the victory means everything to him. Smith stated that his disability makes it difficult for him to perform well on standardized tests. “This disability does not limit what I am capable of,” Smith told The Hill. “In fact, it motivates me even more to achieve greatness.”