Mayor Jaylen Smith, who at just 18 years old, was elected the youngest mayor in US history gave the keynote speech Saturday night during the All-America City Award Night of Celebration.
This year’s event was focused on Creating Thriving Communities through Youth Engagement and, at 19 years old, Mayor Smith not only encourages young people to participate in city government so that their voices will be heard, but also inspires them to do so with his actions. Mayor Smith congratulated all the All-America City Awards finalists for their dedication to building the civic capacity of young people.
In his Keynote, Mayor Smith emphasized the importance of young people taking chances and striving for their dreams. As a student with learning disabilities, joining student government early in high school allowed
Mayor Smith to learn how to work with the school board and to advocate not only for himself but for all students with learning disabilities. Mayor Smith sees a learning disability as “a delay but not a denied” and he takes that message forward when speaking with young people to remind them that they can achieve anything they want by working towards their goals a little at a time.
AAC attendees were impressed to learn how early his drive and ambition for advocacy and creating change in his community began. While in high school, Mayor Smith attended every meeting open to the public so that he could sit, observe, and learn. He jokes that he knew he wanted to “be it all” before he left high school but mostly, he wanted to make an impact in his community. He shared that he "got tired of students leaving Earle, Arkansas to be great.”
This motivated the mayor to choose to stay in the state of Arkansas as his forever home. Mayor Smith knew his calling was to be a voice for change in his community.
Ignoring those who told him he was too young to know what he was doing, he announced his candidacy at just 17 years old. The young mayor wanted to connect with those that he wasn’t reaching while campaigning to hear their concerns about what was most important to them to make their community great. Mayor Smith knows inclusion is key to making change and that change doesn’t come overnight, but he is committed to doing all in his power to make positive changes in his community, which begins with involving the youth. As he wrapped up, he challenged the room, saying “If you feel like you can lead your community, do it.”