NewsZaila Avant-garde: National Spelling Bee's first African American champion

Zaila Avant-garde: National Spelling Bee’s first African American champion


Kolkata, India: A fourteen-year-old Zaila Avant-garde became the first African American and only the second Black recipient of the National Spelling Bee Thursday night, in the 96-years history of the contest. 

After spelling the winning word, “murraya,” meaning a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees, Zaila twirled and leaped with delight.

Zaila classified spelling as a “side pastime,” despite the fact that she practiced for seven hours every day, the Associated Press reported. 

She is a basketball prodigy who aspires to play in the WNBA one day and owns three Guinness World Records for simultaneously dribbling several balls.

Throughout the content, Avant-garde surfed through the challenging spellings hurled to her.

And only one spelling ‘nepeta’ that means Old World mint genus, gave her some trouble. 

Image courtesy of Scripps National Spelling Bee via Twitter

She leaped even higher when she got it right than when she accepted the award.

The runner-up was Chaitra Thummala, a 12-year-old from Frisco, Texas. Cole Shafer-Ray, a 20-year-old Yale student and 2015 Scripps runner-up, coaches both Zaila and Chaitra.

Jody-Anne Maxwell of Jamaica was the only previous Black winner of the bee in 1998.

Zaila also ends a run of at least one champion or co-champion of South Asian ancestry dating back to 2008.

Debayan Paul
Debayan is a freelance digital reporter and Editor-in-chief of We The World Magazine. Contact:


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