Zaila Avant-garde, a 14-year-old basketball prodigy, has won the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee, becoming the first African-American contestant to win in 93 editions of the prestigious competition.
Avant-garde correctly spelled “Murraya”- a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees having pinnate leaves and flowers to win the competition and $50,000 prize money on Thursday.
The 8th-grader also became the first Louisiana resident and the first African-American to win the title in the competition’s 93-year history. The first Black contestant to win was Jody-Anne Maxwell of Jamaica in 1998.
Zaila said she knew she would be the first African American winner of the bee. She knew Black children around the country were watching the telecast, waiting to be inspired and hoping to follow in the footsteps of someone who looked like them.
She thought of MacNolia Cox, who in 1936 became the first Black finalist at the bee but in those days was not allowed to stay in the same hotel as the rest of the spellers.
A basketball prodigy, Avant-garde holds three Guinness World Records for her ability to dribble multiple basketballs at a time.
She hopes to one day play in the Women’s National Basketball Association.
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