An 18-year-old college freshman is now the youngest black mayor in U.S. history after beating his opponent for the position in a small Arkansas town.
Jaylen Smith, a recent graduate of Earle High School, said that while he was “confident” that he would win Tuesday’s runoff election, he was still shocked to hear the news of the victory. He becomes the mayor of Earle, a town of just under 2,000 people 2020 census datanear Memphis, Tenn.
“I felt so thankful! 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.”
Smith received 218 votes while his opponent, Nemi Matthews Sr., won 139 The hill. Smith said he decided to run for mayor early in his senior year, with the encouragement of his fellow sorority members. He said he fully understands the historical significance of his victory. “It feels great. Generations and generations of people will read about this historic 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 resources is a cause Smith said is particularly passionate about.
“We used to have one a long time ago, but it’s closed,” Smith complained of 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, a student from Arkansas State University Mid-South, announced the victory in a Facebook post that has been shared more than 800 times. He said he hopes his victory will inspire other young people to enter politics.
“Go for it!” he said. “It would be good if more young people stepped up to the plate and said, ‘I want to be the change. I want to be the leader people want to see in my community.’”
The young politician said that the victory is extremely important for him as a person with a learning disability. Smith said his disability makes it difficult for him to perform well on standardized tests. “This disability doesn’t detract from what I can do,” Smith said, according to The Hill. “In fact, it motivates me more to achieve greatness.”
Smith told NBC News he is enjoying this special moment of greatness, which includes celebrating the win over the weekend with friends and family.