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You wanna talk about Black excellence? Here she is in the flesh.


Source: JIM WATSON / Getty

If you aren’t familiar with Zaila Avant-garde, then allow us the esteemed pleasure of introducing you to her brilliance. The 14-year-old hails from Harvey, Louisiana and she is a history-making machine. Yesterday, Zaila became the very first African-American to win the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee. According to NOLA, the only other Black spelling champion was a Jamaican girl by the name of Jody-Anne Maxwell who won back in 1998. Every bee since 2008 has been won by a student of South Asian descent.

Zaila is fully aware that money is a major barrier to entry for many Black families with brilliant children who may want to become spelling champions just like many competitive endeavors in America and beyond.

“Maybe they don’t have the money to pay $600 for a spelling program, they don’t have access to that,” Zaila said. “With tutors and stuff, they charge, like, murder rates.”

You might be asking yourself, “What does it take to truly be prepared to win a spelling bee at this level?” Well, a helluva lot more than money. It also costs time. Lots of time.

“For spelling, I usually try to do about 13,000 words (per day), and that usually takes about seven hours or so,” she said. “We don’t let it go way too overboard, of course. I’ve got school and basketball to do.”

Basketball? Yes, basketball. You see, spelling is not Zaila’s main squeeze. It’s essentially a side hustle and probably her second-best skill. Zaila is described as a basketball prodigy similar to how LeBron James was described when he was in high school. She already holds THREE, one, two, THREE, Guinness Book world records for dribbling multiple balls simultaneously in addition to appearing in commercials with NBA champion Stephen Curry.

“Basketball, I’m not just playing it. I’m really trying to go somewhere with it. Basketball is what I do,” Zaila said. “Spelling is really a side thing I do. It’s like a little hors d’ouevre. But basketball’s like the main dish.”

Congratulations, Zaila! Keep applying pressure! We hope to see you giving the ladies in the WNBA FITS one of these days.




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