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Pine Bluff Live hosts youngest Black mayor

by Kim Jones Sneed Special to The Commercial | February 1, 2023 at 3:29 a.m.
Earle Mayor Jaylen Smith reportedly became the youngest Black mayor in the nation recently. (Special to The Commercial/Kim Jones Sneed)

The city of Pine Bluff's first production of Pine Bluff Live on Sunday Number Five focused on youths and featured the youngest Black mayor in the nation.

Earle Mayor Jaylen Smith, who was sworn in Jan. 2, was the keynote speaker Sunday at the Pine Bluff Convention Center.

Smith, 18, graduated from Earle High School in May and won the election to become mayor.

"I joined an organization called the Student Government Association," Smith told the audience of about 250 people. "Within that organization, I got involved with not only the school, but the community. I was an advocate not only for my fellow students but for myself and for education. ... I wanted to make a difference in my community before I moved on to the next phase of my life."

He said that most young people leave their communities and never look back when they graduate from high school. And at times, when they do come back, they expect a miracle to happen.

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in the moment of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy," Smith said, quoting Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. "That quote touched me so hard because a lot of people tend to look at us differently as young people."

Mayor Shirley Washington also referenced King in her remarks.

"If I were to give a theme for tonight, the theme would be 'The Dream is Still Alive,'" Washington said. "Young people, while you have breath in your bodies, you still have hopes and dreams to keep alive! Don't let anyone stop you from dreaming. Parents and guardians, it is our responsibility to see to it that our young people reach their fullest potential."

Smith said that youths today are facing challenges during a time in the world that he described as a "national crisis of emergency."

"When I ran for mayor, I wanted to make the difference to bridge that gap between the young people and our next generation," he said as some members of the audience hollered in excitement.

Smith revealed that he asked God if he should run for political office. He shared that God gave him the approval to pursue his dream in order to make a difference in his community and other communities as well.

"And I'm a firm believer that our better days lie ahead of us," he said.

Smith always set high expectations of himself. He had a different mindset and always dressed like he knew where he wanted to go in life.

"I started wearing suits when I was in the ninth grade," he said adding that a lot of students made fun of him for how he dressed.

"I knew what I wanted to do and I knew what God designed me to be," he said as the audience cheered.

Smith said that he went through storms and tests while he was in high school.

"The principal gave me the blues for three years. I wanted to throw in the towel but God said 'No.'''

He said God was preparing him for a time such as this, to become mayor of a small town of 1,800 people.

"As leaders, we have to have a strong mind. If you don't have a strong mind, you're just going to throw in the towel," he said.

"Young people often do not listen to their parents or grandparents. They know what's best for us. When they tell us not to do something, they've been through it. It's not to hurt us but it's to help us," he said.

Smith recalled his mother often telling him that he could not go certain places. He said he realizes that she did this to "better protect" him.

"But we think as young people that we know everything and we do not know nothing," he said as the audience applauded.

"I'm a firm believer that our parents know [and] our grandparents know. I'm the type of guy I hang around [the] elderly because they pour the wisdom into me and I pour it into other young people," he said.

"Life is too short for us to be stuck in our ways. It's time for us to bridge the gap and work together and move and have a better world to be successful because God created us all to be successful but in a different way," he said.

He encourages young people to step out and get involved.

"You don't have to be a mayor like me ... just do what your heart desires you to do. There will be challenges and obstacles. In spite of those challenges and obstacles, we've got to continue to press forward.

"With God all things are possible. I had a friend tell me that it's impossible to be mayor at 18. But I said the impossible is possible," Smith said. "You don't know until you step out on faith."

He was told by people in his community that he was too young, he didn't know anything and had just graduated from high school.

"How can we step in those roles if we're getting this negativity? That negativity produces motivation to prove them wrong," he said.


During the celebration Sunday, youth displayed their talents by speaking, singing and dancing.

Eryk Johnson, a graduate of Pine Bluff High School, did the opening and closing prayer. Amanda Katrice performed the National Anthem. Saxophonists Kendrick Kelly and Ben Taylor from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff performed "A Change Is Gonna Come" by Sam Cooke.

The Watson Chapel High School choir performed an inspirational selection entitled "Thank You for the Dream" written by Janet Johnson, the choir's director and teacher.

Destiny Hines, a ninth-grade student at Watson Chapel Junior High School, touched hearts during her praise dance to "The Best in Me" by Marvin Sapp.

The White Chapel High School band got the audience moving during their performance of popular selections that included "Free" by Deniece Williams, "Vegas" by Doja Cat, "Under the Influence" by Chris Brown and "Just Got Paid" by Johnny Kemp.

The 34th Avenue Elementary School's Rhythm of the Drums and Drills Team, consisting of 60 students, filled the stage as they marched, danced, twirled or raised pom poms in the air in perfect syncopation.

The Pine Bluff Dance Academy took the audience to New York during their performance to several Christmas holiday-oriented selections.

In a segment that could be entitled "A Family Affair," Washington's grandson, William Odis Nelson, sang Bill Withers' "Lean on Me." He was accompanied by his uncle and Washington's son, Codney Washington.

Nelson put his own spin on a portion of Withers' lyrics.

"You just call on Pine Bluff when you need a hand, we all need somebody to lean on," he sang as the audience cheered.

Washington's granddaughter, Erin Maxine Jacks, got the crowd excited as she awarded winners of drawings with cash prizes ranging from $20 to $50 to a grand prize of $100.

The next Pine Bluff Live Sunday Number Five will take place on April 30 at the Pine Bluff Convention Center. The focus will be on summer jobs and summer camps "with a splash of talent," according to Washington.

  photo  Destiny Hines, a ninth-grade student at Watson Chapel Junior High School, performs to Marvin Sapp's "The Best in Me" during Pine Bluff Live on Sunday Number Five. (Special to The Commercial/Kim Jones Sneed)
  photo  The Watson Chapel High School band wowed the crowd as they performed several popular hits during Pine Bluff Live on Sunday Number Five. (Special to The Commercial/Kim Jones Sneed)

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