Today in Black Excellence: Zaila Avant-garde—the first Black American to win the prestigious Scripps National Spelling Bee in almost 100 years, and she’s only 14!
“For spelling, I usually try to do about 13,000 words [per day], and that usually takes about seven hours or so…we don’t let it go way too overboard, of course. I’ve got school and basketball to do.”
Just how big is her achievement?
Enormous: She has only been competing for two years, and she beat 11 other finalists. And then there are the words she had to spell in the bee, like “querimonious” and “solidungulate” (!).
Get your dictionaries out, people, because we have no idea what these words mean either. Her victory was witnessed by the First Lady, Jill Biden, and celebrated on social media by former President Barack Obama and Bernice King, the youngest daughter of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Did we mention she also won $50,000?
Zalia’s victory makes her the first African American to win the iconic competition. She hopes to inspire other young Black students to do well in the Scripps Spelling Bee, describing the competition as a “gate-opener to being interested in education.”
Talk about Black Girl Magic—and not bad for a girl who turns 15 today. 🎉Happy Birthday, Zaila!🎉
Turns out spelling is not her only talent…
Zaila is a teenage basketball prodigy. She holds three Guinness World Records for dribbling multiple balls at once, appeared in an advertisement with NBA megastar Stephen Curry, and aspires to become a pro. She is also an elite unicyclist and can juggle and cycle simultaneously.
However, when it comes to her future, Zaila is sensible and considering several careers: working at NASA, coaching in the NBA, or playing in the WNBA. Then there is always what she describes as a “side interest:” neuroscience.
Original portrait by Tumblr Creatr @novva
Quote: “Zaila Avant-Garde is such an inspiration to me! It's amazing to know that someone who looks like me could accomplish so much at such a young age. It was an honor to illustrate her many achievements for BHM, and from one spelling bee champ to another, I hope she keeps on inspiring people!”