Spelling bees buzzed throughout my entire childhood.
My most vivid memory is not the word I lost in regionals, it’s the adorable bee balloon I won at my elementary school’s competition when I was in eighth grade. I watched the Scripps National Bee so religiously, I remember when now-Scripps National Spelling Bee’s official chief pronouncer (and 1980 champion) Jacques A. Bailly was the associate pronouncer to then-chief pronouncer Alex J. Cameron. I also remember the moment Bailly succeeded Cameron after his death in 2003. Plus, I thoroughly enjoyed the documentary chronicling the super-intense national competition, titled Spellbound (2006). That said, I haven’t tuned in on a regular basis in several years, so color me a bit disappointed when I didn’t get to experience the incredibly talented Zaila Avant-Garde winning the 93rd Scripps National Spelling Bee live on Thursday night.
The winning word? “Murraya,” which is “a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees,” per the New York Times. Avant-Garde made history as the first-ever African American and the first student from Louisiana to win the national competition.
However, the following clip will do for now!
Let’s get into the many different levels of Black Girl Magic here:
- HER NAME IS ZAILA AVANT-GARDE. You don’t have to ask Bailly to provide you with a definition because thanks to dictionary.com, I have it right here: “the advanced group in any field, especially in the visual, literary, or musical arts, whose works are characterized chiefly by unorthodox and experimental methods.” Language of origin: French. If that isn’t a predestined star by moniker alone, I don’t know what is.
- Did you clock her impeccable wit, asking Bailly to confirm whether the word contained “Murray” in reference to “a comedian,” who I assume would be Bill Murray?!
- She triumphed at Disney World. Super Bowl champs famously say they want to go there after they win, but she got to win right there in the most magical place on Earth!
- THE. TWIRLS. THE CONFETTI. THE BLACK GIRL JOY. OMG.
Naturally, many fans immediately referenced the beloved Black excellence film Akeelah and the Bee (2006), where Keke Palmer portrayed the hugely inspiring titular character who often cited Marianne Williamson, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
Keke, of course, took to Instagram to celebrate Zaila out loud.
“THE REAL LIFE AKEELAH YOU GUYS!! The real life one. I’m so happy in my heart,” Keke wrote. “A couple of weeks ago I sent in a video encouraging all the contestants and for this to happen just feels so spiritual! I am so happy. Major love to Doug Atchinson [who] allowed me to act a dream and thank God for letting me live to see it come to fruition.”
You’d think that becoming a history-making champion in a highly esteemed competition would be enough, but “limit” is the antonym of Zaila, y’all! The 14-year-old eighth grader is also a Guinness World Record holder and a great athlete.
Zaila, whose father changed her surname from Heard to Avant-garde in homage to the jazz great John Coltrane, has for years found other avenues of success. A gifted basketball player, she set three Guinness world records for the most basketballs dribbled simultaneously (six basketballs for 30 seconds); the most basketball bounces (307 bounces in 30 seconds); and the most bounce juggles in one minute (255 using four basketballs).
In 2018, she appeared in a commercial with the N.B.A. star Steph Curry that showcased her skills. She also learned how to divide five-digit numbers by two-digit numbers in her head, a skill she said she has a hard time explaining.
We’re all twirling in celebration for this young queen—congrats, Zaila!