An 18-year-old college freshman is now the youngest Black mayor in U.S. history after beating out his opponent for the position in a small Arkansas town.
Jaylen Smith, a recent graduate of Earle High School, said although he was “confident” he’d win the runoff election Tuesday, he was still shocked when he received news of the victory. He will be the 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 have 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 at the start of his senior year, with the encouragement of his fellow student government association members. He said he fully understands the historic significance of his win. “It feels awesome. Generations and generations of people will read about this historical moment,” he said.
Now, as mayor-elect, Smith said he plans to focus on transportation, public safety and bringing a major grocery store to the city. Increasing residents’ access to food sources is a cause Smith said he’s especially passionate about.
“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.’”
The young politician said the win is extremely significant to him as a person diagnosed with a learning disability. Smith said his disability makes it hard for him to do well on standardized tests. “This disability does not take away from what I am able to do,” Smith said, according to The Hill. “In fact, it motivates me more to achieve greatness.”
Smith told NBC News he’s enjoying this particular moment of greatness, which includes celebrating the win over the weekend with friends and family.
Char Adams is a reporter for NBC BLK who writes about race.
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