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The small Arkansas town of Earle made history Tuesday night when residents elected Jaylen Smith to serve as the town’s mayor. Smith, an 18-year-old recent high school graduate, defeated long time community leader Nemi Matthews in the runoff election. With the victory, Smith became the youngest Black mayor in the United States.
Smith garnered 218 votes, topping Matthews’ total of 139 votes, according to Fox 13 Memphis.
The young politician ran a campaign promising long-overdue change for the community he calls home. Smith frequently posted about the dilapidated buildings in the city’s downtown area. He promised to build a new and brighter future for Earle by working to eliminate the blight and poverty the city suffers with today.
Smith takes the helm of Earle at an inflection point for the city.
According to the 2020 census, nearly half of the city’s population lives below the federal poverty line, including almost 60% of children. The median per capita income in Earle is just $13,260; less than an annual salary for someone making minimum wage.
In addition to widespread poverty, the city is facing a rapid population decline. Earle has lost half its population since 1980, including a 24% drop between 2010 and 2020.
Like many small Black towns in the country, Earle has found itself undermined by historic underinvestment and longstanding racist policies.
Even with these difficult head winds driving toward the city, Smith remains optimistic about the future.
Youngest Black mayor in US history says he is fighting for change “because his community deserves it”
“Our community deserves it,” Smith said when asked about his plans to improve public safety and economic opportunity.
As the results were announced Tuesday night, Smith took to Facebook to celebrate his historic victory.
“It’s time to build a new chapter of Earle, Arkansas,” he wrote.
Smith went on to remind those watching his historic race, “You are never too young to make a difference in your community.”