Zaila Avant-garde Just Became the First African American National Spelling Bee Winner


C-O-N-G-R-A-T-U-L-A-T-I-O-N-S! Fourteen-year-old Zaila Avant-garde just won the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee, and made history in the process. After 93 competitions, Avant-garde is the first African American winner (she is also only the second Black winner, after Jamaican winner Jody-Anne Maxwell in 1998, per CNN).

Her winning word was murraya, a type of tree, following challenging words like querimonious, solidungulate, and nepeta. To give you a sense of how rarely these words are used, all four currently have red lines under them as I type, because the program we use to write articles doesn’t recognize them as words. The title of Spelling Bee Champion comes with a $50,000 cash prize, endless bragging rights, and no chores for a week (we assume).

This is an especially triumphant moment for Bee aficionados; last year’s competition was canceled because of the pandemic. What a way to come back!

What’s especially impressive about Louisiana native Avant-garde, though, is that spelling is actually her second most remarkable hobby. She’s also an avid dribbler! She has the Guinness World Record for “most bounce juggles in one minute” and often posts clips of her tricks to her Instagram page, which is well worth a peruse.

Here she is juggle-dribbling on a unicycle. Yes, on a unicycle:

I…can’t even begin to explain what the multitalented teenager is doing here; I just know she has an incredibly cool rec room: 

According to the video posted by the Guinness World Records, Zaila Avant-garde hopes to become a professional basketball player in the WNBA.

She said at the time, “I think the more that the achievements and triumphs of women are promoted and publicized, the more likely it is that other girls all around the world will see that they can do any and everything that they put their minds to.” Agree with the sentiment, but I couldn’t juggle like that or spell any of those words no matter how much of my mind I put to it. That’s all you, Zaila!


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