Zaila Avante-garde, a 13-year-old, Becomes First African American Spelling Bee Champion

Zaila Avante-garde on Thursday night correctly spelled “murraya,” which is a genus of flowering plants found in Asia, Australia and the Pacific Islands. The correct spelling won Avante-garde the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee championship.

Avante-garde, a 13-year-old from Harvey, Louisiana—a southern suburb of New Orleans—became the first African American student to win the prestigious championship.

The only other Black champion in the 96-year-old contest was Jody-Anne Maxwell of Jamaica, who won it in 1998.

After Avante-garde correctly spelled the word “M-U-R-R-A-Y-A” she was greeted by an astounding, “That is correct!” Avante-garde jumped and completely turned a 360 in celebration, and then stood still as a barrage of confetti shot from the air. She twirled again as the newest champion.

“I’m hoping that within the next few years, I can see a little bit of an influx of African Americans, and not many Hispanic people, either, so I’m hoping to see them there, too,” she said.

Whether dribbling a basketball or identifying obscure Latin or Greek roots, Zaila Avant-garde doesn’t show much stress. Now she has become the first African American winner in the 96-year history of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

The 14-year-old from Harvey, Louisiana, breezed to the championship on Thursday night. The only previous Black winner was also the only champ from outside the United States: Jody-Anne Maxwell of Jamaica in 1998.