My good people post this morning is taking a little deviation from the standard, but this young man crossed my radar last night and frankly I liked what I saw. Last May, Jaylen Smith graduated from high school. On January 1st, he was sworn in as mayor of Earle, Arkansas! Jaylen is 18 years old!
The city of Earle, population 1,831, has undergone much change since the 1990s when the population was nearly double what it is today. The shoe factory closed, and the supermarket pulled out. So did neighbors whose old homes were now falling apart, overtaken by weeds and trees. Likewise, the best students at Earle High School often left for college and decided their hometown did not have enough to lure them back.
Jaylen Smith could have left, too. Instead, when he graduated from high school last spring he resolved to stay put in Earle, a small city surrounded by farmland in the Arkansas Delta, where his family has lived for generations. He decided to stay and try to make a difference, so he threw his hat into the ring for the mayor’s race … and won!
“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.”
Coming from some, that would sound like political rhetoric, but … I believe he means every word of it.
Smith described Earle as a town driven by high school sports and growing soybeans and cotton. He ran on a platform of bringing a grocery store to town, beautifying the city and improving transportation and public safety. Now, lest you think Smith has no relevant experience, he served three years as president of Earle High School’s student government, during which he negotiated a deal with a new cafeteria vendor.
During his days of campaigning, he knocked on the door of nearly every home in Earle. He spent days shadowing mayors in other Arkansas cities, including Little Rock and West Memphis, and scheduled video calls with mayors outside the state, eager to learn what the job actually entailed.
“I’m kind of a go-getter. When I was in high school, I was always told no, but I always kept pushing it because I knew there was someone that was waiting to tell me yes.”
Just a few days into his term, his calendar was filling with meetings, and he had already dispatched crews to work on storm drains. He also has college to think about, as he balances the job with online classes at Arkansas State University Mid-South.
The city of Earle has been infused with a sense of optimism since Mr. Smith won the mayor’s race in early December and especially since he took charge on January 1st. His victory made him one of the youngest African American mayors ever elected in the country — a point of enormous pride to his family and supporters. And many residents hope that his youthful energy and sense of mission can boost the city’s fortunes — or, at the very least, attract a supermarket back to Earle.
“You have to have the knowledge. You have to have the character. You have to be disciplined.”
According to City Council member Angela Jones …
“Sometimes, when the City Council members didn’t show up, Jaylen was there. He attends the school board meetings, the water commission meetings. He was young and he was doing this — who does that? At a young age, he had purpose.”
And another City Council member, Tyneshia Bohanon, who came to know Jaylen while substitute teaching in Earle’s public schools, also has positive words …
“It’s an asset because he’s motivated and he has fresh ideas. He’s thinking of others, as he always has. He chose to stay and get his city where he knows it can be.”
Jaylen is young and inexperienced in many ways. He faces extraordinary problems trying to revive a town that has largely become a ghost town. But his heart is in the right place and he is so obviously an intelligent young man, so maybe … just maybe he can do it! I have long said that we need more young people involved in government, and I think Jaylen may prove my point. When I first read his story in the New York Times last night, I was impressed, so I checked it out in other venues such as CNN, The Washington Post, BBC and others, and all presented a very positive image of a bright young man who just might be able to make a big difference in the lives of the people of Earle, Arkansas. The more I read, the more I felt that here was another good people who deserves mentioning.