Kudos to 14-year-old Zaila Avant-Garde.
She is the $50,000 prize winner of the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee and the first of her race to win the title.
The Harvey, Louisiana native made history being the very first African-American champion — after 96 years of competition.
Zailia correctly spelled the word ‘murraya’ causing confetti to rain across the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida location where 209 spellers ranging in ages from 9 to 15 competed last week to win the coveted prize.
“I was pretty relaxed on the subject of murraya and pretty much any other word I got,” Zaila said.
As a matter of fact, her victory was so secure the Bee ended in less than two hours eliminating the lightning round tie-breaker usually effected.
According to the teenager, at age 12, spelling added to her list of hobbies and challenging tasks.
At that age she seriously considered competing in the national contest.
Ultimately she did and made it to the nationals but bowed out in the preliminary rounds. The following year, the Covid-19 pandemic canceled the contest.
However, Zaila decided that nothing would stop her from giving her all in 2021.
Considering that contestants usually begin preparing from kindergarten, Avant-Garde seemed a late starter and an unlikely winner of the demanding competition.
In addition to champions from every state, this year she faced the best spellers from Japan, Canada, Ghana and the Bahamas.
Heightened pressure must have resonated when the finalist was informed that first lady Jill Biden was among the celebrated teachers watching in the audience.
Reportedly the educator remained in place after making a speech to actually witness the historic Olympics of spelling.
I was in the Bahamas in 1998 when 12-year-old Jamaican speller Jody-Anne Maxwell aced the Scripps Howard contest to emerge the first ever international contestant to take the championship.
She beat out 248 spellers including representatives from the Bahamas, Mexico and other international nations.
l recall the jubilation and pride of the entire cadre of Jamaican and Caribbean nationals there — the triumph of a little girl from Ardenne High School manifested globally with shared joy by all my colleagues gathered overseas for a music festival.
Maxwell out-spelled foreign and domestic champions clinching the title spelling the word “Chairoscurist.”
Now a married lady and attorney, the Jamaican history maker maintains her title but must yield to the African-American who is first from the host country to secure what has been unattainable for any African-American.
Ironically, Prior to a Scripps competition, the very first winner of a spelling contest was 14-year-old African American Marie C. Bolden who won the championship in 1908 in New Orleans.
The ruckus her victory caused cannot be detailed in this limited space but be assured white entitlement prevailed with repercussions against the Black community.
Louisiana has come a long way, on the announcement of her victory, Zaila was offered full scholarship to Louisiana State University.
Historians are also now harkening back to 1936 when African American MacNolia Cox emerged the first Black finalist in the Scripps competition.
She wasn’t even allowed to stay in the same hotel as her fellow Bees.
However, it cannot be understated that in this millennia competitors of color have dominated the annual.
South Asian descendants practically owned the title since 2008. Reports are that throughout the years at least one Indian-American have been able to secure the title of king or queen Bee.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau data, “Indian-Americans are the wealthiest ethnic group and Indian professionals who migrate to the U.S. have access to a network of Bees and other academic competitions targeting their community.”
Zalia’s victory broke the streak and in the process made history for her race. In winning she has brought attention to the economic restraints which probably inhibit Black participation — a $600 entrance fee, a training coach and many hours of daily practice.
Zalia is no stranger to success, she is listed three times in the Guinness Book of World Records. The New York Times reported that her records include: dribbling the most multiple basket balls simultaneously — six dribbled in 30 seconds; most basketball bounces — 307 bounces in 30 seconds and most juggles in a minute – 255 juggles with four basketballs.
The teenager has even appeared in a commercial with basketball star Stephen Curry.
With that kind of track record, going forward her goal will be to focus on her game and the aim of playing in the WNBA.
She’s a prodigy of basketball.
“I kind of thought I would never be into spelling again, but I’m also happy that I’m going to make a clean break from it,” the accomplished winner said, “I can go out, like my Guinness World Records, just leave it right there, and walk off.”
Her plan is to play ball and attend Harvard.
Sounds like a plan fully endorsed by President Barack Obama, the daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Bernice King, actress Keke Palmer — who starred in the movie “Akila and the Bee,” — and a number of well-wishers who expressed kudos via social media.
By the way, you like many must be pondering her surname.
Allegedly Jawara Facetime, her father gave her the last name Avant-Garde in tribute to jazz musician John Coltrane.
You go girl!!!
You make us proud.
Girl power in full effect!!!
Catch You On The Inside!