Zaila Avant-garde wins Spelling Bee
The first African American to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 93 editions of the competition is Zaila Avant-garde, a 14-year-old from New Orleans, Louisiana. Zaila won the 2021 crown after correctly spelling murraya — a type of tree — that she associated with the famous comedian, Bill Murray.
After asking if the word “murraya” contained a name, like a comedian, and inquiring about the word’s language of origin, Avant-garde correctly spelled the word.
When she realized she had won, the joy of the moment brought on an instant smile as Zaila put her hands on her head before twirling, jumping, and laughing on stage as colorful confetti spun down all around her.
Zaila won the National Spelling Bee after just two years of practicing competitively. “It felt really good to be a winner at something because of the fact that I have been, like, working on it for like two years,” Zaila told Good Morning America on Friday. “To finally have it, like the best possible outcome, it was really good.” said the new champ, “To actually win the whole thing was like a dream come true.” Along with the title, Zaila will receive a $50,000 cash prize. The only Black winner before her was 12-year-old Jody-Anne Maxwell, who represented Jamaica in 1998.
Like almost everything else in 2020, the event was canceled last year due to the pandemic, so everyone was excited for this year’s event. The competition began with 209 spellers, ranging in age from 9 to 15, from five countries: the US, the Bahamas, Canada, Ghana and Japan trying to become the top bee in the National Spelling Bee. Thursday night’s final had 11 contestants remaining. First lady Jill Biden was on hand to cheer on the competitors at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. To become the top bee, Zaila says she studied words such as querimonious, solidungulate, and Nepeta.
Thursday night’s win is just another notch on her belt as Zaila has a long list of achievements including holding three Guinness World Record titles for dribbling, bouncing and juggling basketballs including one for the most bounce juggles in one minute.
In 2018, young Zaila appeared in a commercial with NBA great Steph Curry. She hopes to one day play basketball at Harvard before enjoying a career at NASA or as a coach in the NBA. She said she may also pursue a career in neuroscience or gene editing. At 12, she can be anything she wants to be, and she is taking it one title at a time.
By sharing her journey toward the national spelling bee as well as videos of her playing basketball, young Zaila has amassed more than 14,000 followers on Instagram who are impressed with the her talents and ball handling abilities