Louisiana teen becomes the first African American contestant to win National Spelling Bee

We have a W-I-N-N-E-R!

Zaila Avant-garde, a 14-year-old from New Orleans, Louisiana, won the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday, becoming the first African American contestant to win in 93 editions of the competition. 

The only Black winner before was Jody-Anne Maxwell, representing Jamaica in 1998.

Zaila triumphed after correctly spelling murraya — a type of tree — to clinch the championship. To get there, the teen had to navigate her way through words like “querimonious,” “solidungulate,” and “Nepeta,” a word the teen had to reset on, and let out a joyous jump after her correct spelling. 

Zaila will receive a $50,000 cash prize.

Thursday night’s win is just one in a long list of achievements for the champion. 

On Instagram, where she has gained a following of more than 14,000 people, she has shared her victorious journey toward the national spelling bee as well as videos of her playing basketball, impressing her followers with her hoop skills.

Zaila Avant-garde, a 14-year-old from New Orleans, Louisiana. First African American contestant to win National Spelling Bee

In addition to her spelling bee crown, Zaila was the Guinness World Records title holder for most bounce juggles in one minute. 

According to a video posted on the official Guinness World Records Twitter page, Zaila started dribbling when she was just 5 years old and hopes to one day become a professional basketball player and join the WNBA. 

“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,” she said in the video. 

The National Spelling Bee competition began with 209 spellers, ranging from 9 to 15 years old, from five countries: the US, the Bahamas, Canada, Ghana and Japan. And 11 contestants entered Thursday night’s final.

First lady Dr. Jill Biden was on hand to cheer on the competitors at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. 

The event was canceled last year due to the pandemic — for the first time since World War II.

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