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Jaylen Smith from Arkansas: Youngest Black Mayor in History Beats the Odds; Elected to Lead City at 18-Year-Old with Learning Disability

A Black teen from the Natural State has made his mark months after graduating, going from a high school senior to a prestigious title, Jaylen Smith from Arkansas: youngest Black mayor.

The 18-year-old is also the youngest American mayor ever to hold office after being elected to lead the small city of Earle in northeast Arkansas.

18-Year-Old with Learning Disability Makes History As Youngest Mayor Ever Elected Months After Graduating High School:'Motivates Me More to Achieve Greatness'
Jaylen Smith is the new mayor of Earle, Ark. (Photo: Twitter/@Eminitybaba_)

Jaylen Smith from Arkansas:Youngest Black Mayor in History

The rural city of Earle held a runoff Tuesday, Dec. 6, for two candidates who could not be more different.

One candidate was Jaylen Smith, an 18-year-old who graduated from Earle High School in May. His opponent was Nemi Matthews Sr., a white man who has served the Crittenden County town as its longtime street superintendent and police lieutenant, the Arkansas Times reports.

After the race was called in his favor, Smith took to Facebook to address his constituency.

“Citizens of Earle, Arkansas, it’s official!! I am your newly elected Mayor of Earle, Arkansas… ‘It’s Time to Build a Better Chapter of Earle, Arkansas.’ I would like to thank all my supporters for stepping up and getting people to the polls,” he wrote. “I am truly grateful for you all.”

According to the unofficial results from the Crittenden County Clerk’s office, Smith, who ran on the Democratic ticket, won the runoff election with 235 votes to the veteran civil servant’s 185 votes.

The small town of 1,831 residents had a low voter turnout, with only 420 people casting ballots.

“I didn’t run to make a name for myself. I ran because I wanted to help my community and move my community in the direction that it needed to be moved in,” Smith told CNN.

During his campaigning, Smith received support and advice from Frank Scott Jr., the mayor of Little Rock, Arkansas, who also serves as the African American Mayors Association president.

Scott said he was thrilled for his mentee and the city he will serve.

“I’m excited for Jaylen and the entire community in Earle as he becomes the youngest-ever African American mayor elected in the country. I’m proud of his willingness to enter into public service at such a young age and his aspirational goals for the city,” Scott said.

The young man also reached out to other mayors in Arkansas, picking their brains about running cities.

While a high school student, Smith learned the basic rules of politics by working in the student government association. He said that made him “passionate and determined” to make an impact on his city immediately.

At the time, while many questioned his maturity and ability to lead so young, he said, “It’s not about how old you are; it’s about who has this city at heart most.”

Age was not the only challenge that Smith overcame to accomplish his goal.

NBC News reports at one point along his educational journey. He was diagnosed with a learning disability.

Smith’s learning challenge made it difficult to score well on standardized tests. Still, the current Arkansas State University Mid-South freshman said, “This disability does not take away from what I am able to do. In fact, it motivates me more to achieve greatness.”

Smith’s platform agenda, crafted while in his bedroom in his parents’ home, includes the goal of refurbishing abandoned homes in the city, creating an around-the-clock police department, creating jobs for the youth, starting a public transportation program, and investing in bringing a major grocery store franchise to the city.

“We had one a long time ago, but it closed,” Smith said about why the city doesn’t have a food market. “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.” 

In less than a month, Smith will be sworn in as the second Black person to serve as the city’s mayor. The first, Sherman Smith Sr., like Jaylen, graduated from Earle High School.

The new Earle mayor will be sworn in during the first week of January, and he said his ultimate goal is “to show the people of Earle results.”

When asked how he feels about this moment, Smith proudly said, “It feels awesome. Generations and generations of people will read about this historical moment.”

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