Teen Elected as America's Youngest Black Mayor

Jaylen Smith, 18, has big plans for Earle, Arkansas
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 9, 2022 10:41 AM CST
Teen Is Youngest Black Mayor in US History
Jaylen Smith at the Arkansas Black Mayors Association 50th Anniversary Gala, held Sept. 10, 2022 in Little Rock.   (Helaine R. Williams/The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via AP)

This has been an eventful year for 18-year-old Jaylen Smith—he finished high school, started college, and became the youngest Black mayor in American history. Smith was elected mayor of Earle, an east Arkansas city of almost 2,000 people near Memphis, Tennessee, in a runoff election Tuesday, NBC reports. He defeated long-serving streets and sanitation superintendent Nemi Matthews, 235 votes to 185. Smith, one of the youngest US mayors of any race, tells CNN that he didn't run to make a name for himself. "I ran because I wanted to help my community and move my community in the direction that it needed to be moved in.”

Smith, who still lives at home with his parents, will take office in January. He plans to juggle his duties with his studies at Arkansas State University Mid-South, the Washington Post reports. He says his parents are thrilled by the victory. "My mom can't stop crying," he told the Post the day after the election. He says his priorities will include improving safety and transportation. He says he wants to better Earle residents' access to food sources, ideally by bringing a grocery store to the town. "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," he says, per NBC.

Smith has been getting advice from Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott, president of the African American Mayors Association. "I'm proud of his willingness to enter into public service at such a young age and his aspirational goals for the City," says Scott. Smith, who was president of Earle High School’s student government for three years, says he was carried to victory by young people who "wanted to see change." (More Arkansas stories.)

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