18-Year-Old Arkansan Becomes Youngest Black Mayor in American History

Jaylen Smith, an 18-year-old who graduated from high school in May, is now Mayor of Earle, Arkansas. He was elected in a runoff election last Tuesday, winning 235 votes to his opponent, Nemi Matthews’ 183, according to complete but unofficial votes.

 Smith becomes one of the youngest people to serve as a city’s top leader in the United States, and is now the youngest member of the African American Mayors Association, Phillis Dickerson, chief executive officer of the association, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Cleveland Mayor, Justin Bibb, 35, was the youngest prior to Smith’s win on Tuesday.

Earle, Arkansas is a small rural community with a population of 1,831, about 25 miles northwest of Memphis, and where Smith graduated high school. He is a student at Arkansas State University Mid-South in West Memphis, Arkansas.

According to NBC News, Smith decided to run for mayor during the start of his senior year of high school. He was encouraged by other members of the student government association. “I didn’t run to make a name for myself, I ran because I wanted to help my community and move my community in the direction that it needed to be moved in.” Smith told CNN.

Smith campaigned on improving public safety and bringing new businesses, including a grocery store, to the rural city, to increase residents’ access to food, according to a report by The Hill.

Smith told Little Rock station KATV, “People looking at me, well I’m too young, he has no experience, he’s fresh out of high school. But I used to always tell people you have to start somewhere in life.”

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Smith also commented to The Hill, “I feel my purpose from God is to advocate for the ones that are scared and afraid to advocate for themselves. The ultimate goal is to provide help, love and care.”

Smith is among a handful of people in the U.S. elected mayor before their 20th birthday, including Michael Sessions, who was elected mayor of Hillsdale, Michigan in 2005 when he was 18 and John Tyler Hammons, who was elected mayor of Muskogee, Oklahoma in 2008, at the age of 19.

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