18-year-old, Jaylen Smith represents Black Excellence as he campaigned for mayor, determined to invest more in his little “family town” in Arkansas.
Many public workers and politicians who took their oaths of office in 2023 were granted official new positions. Mayor Jaylen Smith, age 18, is one of the newly sworn-in politicians of Earle, Arkansas.
According to all reports, Smith is the nation’s youngest Black mayor and is garnering national attention. He has been featured on The Jennifer Hudson Show and in major news outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN, among others.
Now the mayor of his 1,800-person city, Smith exemplifies what it means to reinvest in the community that reared you.
In an interview with Slate, Smith discusses the impact of his family on his choice to run for office. “I told my godmother early in my senior year that I wanted to run for mayor. She said to proceed. And I pursued it, despite the fact that some believed I shouldn’t,” he told the journal in December.
He described Earle as a “family town” in the same interview. Situated around 30 miles outside of Memphis, Tennessee, the majority-Black city has suffered problems typical of tiny, rural communities in recent years.
For instance, Smith’s platform relied heavily on infrastructure enhancements. According to accounts, he campaigned door-to-door, promising residents he would strive to bring a supermarket back inside the city limits, construct a 24-hour police department, and tear down derelict structures, among other things.
In a population of fewer than 2,000 people, it is simple for everyone to feel as though they know everyone else and has even had a role in the life of another person or their parents. That contributed to Smith’s election.
Former Earle High School basketball coach Billy Joe Murray told The New York Times that infrastructure, notably the town’s failing drainage system, is the mayor’s top priority. In addition, he explained that Smith received his support because of his family’s relationship with Earle.
Murray told The Times that he taught Smith’s mother and that he knows Smith’s father. Smith lives with his parents. “He may appear young, but he has a sound mind.”
In December, Smith told “The Washington Post” that his parents are ecstatic about his record-breaking new position in the city where they have resided for generations.
He stated, “My mother can’t stop weeping.”
There is a common belief that the best thing for young people to do is to leave their hometowns, especially smaller, rural ones. However, this can often contribute to a form of localized brain drain and vicious cycle: The city loses people, causing its tax base and population to dwindle, preventing it from making large investments in infrastructure that would attract people to come into or remain in the city.
Because of the Smith family’s and the community’s investment in Jaylen, the city is poised and optimistic about its future.
“Why should I go elsewhere to achieve greatness when I can achieve greatness right here in Earle, Arkansas?” Smith questioned The Times.
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