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Thursday, April 18, 2024

A struggling city in Arkansas elected a young leader, age 18, to serve as mayor in order to turn things around

The shoe manufacturing went out of business, and the supermarket withdrew its services. And so were the neighbours, whose dilapidated houses were suddenly being overrun by overgrown vegetation and trees. In a similar vein, the top students at Earle High School often went away to college after deciding that their hometown did not have sufficient opportunities to entice them to return.

Jaylen Smith, age 18, had the option to go as well. Instead, once he finished high school and graduated in the spring of 2018, he made the decision to remain in Earle, which is a tiny community in the Arkansas Delta that is surrounded by farmland. This is where his family has resided for centuries.

Earle has been mostly identifiable by the things that it has lost throughout the course of its history. For example, in the 1990s, the town’s population was well over 3,000 people, but now it is only about 1,800 people. But ever since Smith was declared the winner of the mayoral campaign at the beginning of December, and particularly ever since he assumed office on January 1st, the city has been filled with a feeling of excitement. As a result of his win, he became one of the youngest African Americans to be elected as mayor anywhere in the nation, which was a source of tremendous pride for both his family and his supporters. And a good number of locals have the expectation that his young vigour and sense of responsibility will be able to improve the economic situation of the city, or at the very least, bring a grocery store back to Earle.

The idea to develop a supermarket was one of the cornerstones of Smith’s campaign, along with expanding the Earle Police Department so that it can function around the clock. He also won over people by talking about repairing streets, taking down run-down buildings, and boosting the mood of the town. This helped him win their support.

His programme, which seemed to be so basic, really represented the terrible price that those who have stayed in Earle had been forced to pay. They have had to battle with a poor drainage system that causes communities to get flooded when it rains and coffers that have periodically been so empty that the city has had trouble meeting its payroll obligations. These are just two of the many challenges they have faced. Even though the school district does not fall within the authority of the mayor, in 2017 the state took control of it because, in part, money had been mismanaged. There were some people who were not ready to put their faith in Smith to lead the city. One of the most difficult things for him to do as a candidate was to win over those who were sceptical of him because of his age and lack of experience. This was especially difficult given that his opponent in the election held in December was the city’s far more experienced sanitation and street manager.

However, his supporters maintained that they were not asking voters to give control of their city to any 18-year-old candidate. This was Jaylen, the adolescent male who began wearing suits to school when he was in the ninth grade and who plays gospel music quite loudly through the speakers of his computer. In addition to that, he had established himself as a regular attendee of community gatherings and City Council sessions.

Cotton and beans are cultivated in the expansive fields that surround the town of Earle, which is located approximately 28 miles from Memphis in Tennessee and is home to a mostly black population. There are a number of churches, a few places that sell old automobiles, and a few of eateries, such as the Glory Grill, which is located on the main street and is known for its “Mercy Burger.”

According to Billy Joe Murray, who coached basketball at Earle High School for many years before retiring, the community is in desperate need of changes. According to him, the most important problem was with the drainage system. “I’m underwater every time it rains,” he remarked as he slapped away sweat bees on his front porch. “Every time it rains, I’m underwater.”

According to Smith’s mother, Sonya Perkins, who also has two elder brothers and a twin named Jayden, Smith has “always been old,” even when he was a little child. Smith was formerly interested in pursuing a career in law enforcement, and Earle High School basketball coach Murray appointed him to the position of team manager. But as he got active in the student government, he decided to change his intentions.

He has entertained the idea of one day making a bid for a position in the Arkansas state legislature or possibly the office of governor of the state.

However, for the time being, Smith is concentrating on Earle and the laborious tasks that come with being a municipal administrator. After just a few days on the job, his agenda was already starting to fill up with meetings, and he had already sent teams out to begin working on the storm drains.

Because he works full-time while simultaneously taking online courses at Arkansas State University Mid-South, he must juggle his professional and academic responsibilities.

Jonathan James
Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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