An 18-year-old college freshman is now the youngest black mayor in US history after beating his opponent for the job in a small town in Arkansas.
Jaylen Smith, a recent graduate of Earle High School, said while he was “confident” he would win the runoff election on Tuesday, he was still shocked when he received news of the victory. He will serve as mayor of Earle, a town of just under 2,000 people, according to 2020 census data, 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 supported his campaign “every step of the way.”
Smith received 218 votes while his opponent, Nemi Matthews Sr., won 139, according to The Hill. Smith said he decided to run for mayor early in his senior year, with encouragement from his fellow student government association members. He said he fully understood the historical significance of his victory. “It’s awesome. Generations and generations of people will read about this historic moment,” he said.
Now, as mayor-elect, Smith said he plans to focus on transportation, public safety and bringing a major grocery store to town. Improving residents’ access to food sources is a cause that Smith says he is particularly passionate about.
“We had one a long time ago, but it closed,” Smith lamented of the now-closed grocery store. “Our seniors don’t have transportation to and from West Memphis to get food. So it would be better to have a grocery store here in town.
Smith, a student at Arkansas State University Mid-South, announced the victory in a Facebook post that has been shared more than 800 times. He said he hopes his victory will inspire other young people to enter politics.
“Dark!” he said. “It would be nice if more young people would step up and say, ‘I want to be the change. I want to be the leader people want to see in my community.’ »
The young politician said the win was hugely important to him as someone diagnosed with a learning disability. Smith said his disability prevented him from doing well on standardized tests. “This disability doesn’t take away from what I’m able to do,” Smith said, according to The Hill. “It actually motivates me more to achieve greatness.”
Smith told NBC News he is enjoying this special moment of greatness, which includes celebrating the victory over the weekend with his friends and family.