Historic Black firsts continue to reveal themselves in the most amazing of ways.
On Thursday night, that truth was on full display when Zaila Avant-garde, 14, became the first Black American to ever win the Scripps National Spelling Bee, a competition that has long been dominated by teens with South Asian heritage.
Zaila clinched her victory by correctly spelling the word, “murraya,” which Merriam Webster defines as, “a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees (family Rutaceae) having pinnate leaves and flowers with imbricated petals.”
Luckily the definition was irrelevant and Zaila cautiously but confidently spelled the winning word, celebrating her victory with a series of spins on stage as confetti fell from the ceiling. Watch the historic moment she won below.
Aside from the prestige and making Black history, Zaila also won a $50,000 cash prize for capturing the 2021 Spelling Bee title.
Zaila had to successfully spell arguably much trickier words to advance to the final round, including such rarely used parts of speech as, “querimonious,” “solidungulate” and “Nepeta.”
While Zaila is the first Black American to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee, she is actually the second Black person to do so. With the spelling bee attracting teenagers from all over the world to compete, Jody-Anne Maxwell of Jamaica won the contest in 1998.
But, as the New York Times reported, those two were exceptions to what’s all but become the rule that South Asians will win the Scripps National Spelling Bee. In fact, a person of South Asian descent had won the Scripps National Spelling Bee every year since 2008 — until Thursday night.
For Zaila, the win was just the latest in a series of notable accomplishments for the young prodigy who already holds several Guinness world records.
The Harvey, Louisiana, native has set three world records: 1) for dribbling the most basketballs simultaneously (six in 30 seconds); 2) for bouncing the most basketballs (307 bounces in 30 seconds); and 3) for the most bounce juggles in one minute (she used four basketballs for 255 bounce juggles).
While Thursday night’s victory was not a world record, it was certainly historic in its own right.
Zaila’s Instagram account — which boasts more than 17,000 followers — is replete with photos and videos of her accomplishments. And in case you haven’t already guessed, she’s an amazingly skilled basketball player who looks like she has a bright future ahead of her in the sport if he so chooses.
But, as shown with the spelling bee, her talents are far from only athletic. Zaila describes herself in her Instagram bio as a “#Mathemagician” and an “#Actress.”
Zaila told Guinness World Records last year that she is trying to inspire other girls to live out their dreams.
“I think the more the achievements and triumphs of women are promoted and publicized, the more likely it is that little girls around the world will see that they can do any and everything they put their minds to.”