Zaila Avant-garde, a 14 year old girl from Louisiana, recently became the 93rd and first Black American winner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. There was a another Black champion from Jamaica in 1998, Miss Jody-Anne Maxwell, however, the event has been historically dominated by Asians and other non-Black people of color. Zalia took home the spelling bee trophy and more than $50,000 in cash and prizes. The runner-up for the event were Chaitra Thummala, 12, of Frisco, Texas and Bhavana Madini, 13, from Plainview, New York, finished third.
In a world where black girls are sometimes belittled for their intelligence or overtly and overly sexualized (just, look at the mass twerking trap videos) it was quite wonderful to see this beautiful young girl with natural hair, acne and braces win such a prestigious award for using her BRAIN. She correctly spelled the word “Murraya” which means genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees. Zaila threw up her hands and twirled around after spelling the word correctly. The audience, including educator and First Lady Jill Biden, stood and cheered for the young spelling bee champion.
A section of this website is about the importance of words – WORDS MATTER. It was included because I also studied the dictionary as a child being curious by the different meanings and their etymological origins. It fascinates me that even Zaila’s name triggers a discussion about words. Her last name Avant–garde is originally a French term, meaning vanguard or advance guard (the part of an army that goes forward ahead of the rest). However, today we give the word the meaning to express new and unusual or experimental ideas, especially in the arts, etc. Her name also has origins most likely traceable to the original French colonizers who settled in Louisiana as slave owners.
So – – I am thrilled to see this young girl’s accomplishment. Trust me, there are many others just like her with diverse abilities not just in their outer appearance (beauty or physical features) but innate curiosity and intelligence. Bravo Zaila Avant-garde, Bravo!!! We are all proud of you (your ancestors, family, educators etc.) and your accomplishment. We also cheer you on to become an outstanding Avant–garde woman in the future.