Meet the First African-American Winner of Scripps National Spelling Bee

Photo by Piotr Łaskawski on Unsplash

14-year-old Zaila Avant-garde has made history as she became the first African-American who won the 90-year-old Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday. She managed to correctly spell the Murraya,’ a genus of plants, staying cool after a near-miss with a botanical word in an earlier round.

Avant-garde, from New Orleans, is the first Black competitor to win since Jody-Anne Maxwell of Jamaica in 1998. The winner is also a talented basketball player, with various Guinness World Records to her name for dribbling multiple basketballs at a time. Avant-garde secured the $50,000 top prize after looking calm and joking with the judges and moderators, despite the difficulty to spell ‘Nepeta,’ a word for another plant genus.

Furthermore, the second winner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee is Chaitra Thummala, 12, of San Francisco. The second winner has misspelled the ‘neroli oil,’ but still managed to secure the prize of $25,000. The third winner is Bhavana Madini, 13, of New York who claimed a $15,000 prize, after being removed on ‘athanor,’ a type of furnace.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee is a yearly spelling bee competition organized in the US. The bee is run on a not-for-profit basis by The E. W. Scripps firm and is organized at a hotel or convention center in Washington, D.C. during the week following Memorial Day weekend.

Additionally, the competition is fully ruled by participants of Indian heritage, Avant-garde has the right to fully celebrate her ground-breaking triumph. She disclosed in an interview before the finals that she wanted to motivate other African Americans. She stated that though they have no money to pay for the tutorials there is a need for them to remain competitive.