Meet the Youngest Black Mayor in the Country. He is Just 18 Years Old.
A victory on multiple fronts.
Don't offer to buy the newly elected mayor of Earle, Arkansas, a congratulatory beer—he's not old enough yet. This week, 18-year-old Jaylen Smith was elected mayor of his hometown, making him the youngest Black mayor in U.S. history.
Smith, a college freshman, was declared the winner of a runoff election on Tuesday. "It feels awesome," he said. "Generations and generations of people will read about this historical moment." Read on to learn more about Smith, including what his opponent had to say about him and the specific challenge that stood in his way.
Jaylen Smith is a recent graduate of Earle High School and a freshman at Arkansas State University Mid-South. He said he decided to run for mayor at the start of his senior year, encouraged by other members of the student government association.
Smith received 218 votes, while his opponent, Nemi Matthews Sr., got 139. "I felt so grateful! I had the craziest facial reaction when I won! It was such a blessing," Smith told NBC News. He said his parents were proud and supported his campaign "every step of the way."
When he takes office, Smith plans to focus on transportation, public safety, tearing down abandoned buildings, and bringing a major grocery store to the city. He told NBC News that increasing residents' access to food is a particular priority.
"We had one a long time ago, but it closed," Smith said about the city's erstwhile 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's opponent, who served as a street superintendent for 30 years, congratulated the new mayor on his victory. Matthews told WKRC that he and the 18-year-old are friends, and their families have known each other for years.
"No animosity, anything, for as me and Jaylen are concerned," said Matthews. "Everything has been cordial. If I can help him do anything, I'll do it, and likewise with him."
Smith told NBC News he hoped his victory will encourage more young people to run for office. In the recent midterm elections, the first member of Gen Z was elected to the U.S. Congress: Maxwell Frost is just 25.
"Go for it!" said Smith. "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.'"
Smith said his win was particularly significant because he was diagnosed with a learning disability at an early age. The condition made it hard for him to do well on standardized tests, which affected his college opportunities.
"This disability does not take away from what I am able to do," Smith told The Hill. "In fact, it motivates me more to achieve greatness."