Dear Zaila; an Open Letter to Local Spelling Bee Champion

Dear Zaila Avant-garde,

You have made your hometown of Harvey, and all of Louisiana, so proud. After correctly spelling murraya, a type of tree, you clinched the championship and became the first African-American contestant to win Scripps National Spelling Bee, in its 96-year history. 

Not only are you a spelling bee champion, but you are an athlete, as well. You started playing basketball when you were 5 years old, with hopes of someday playing in the WNBA and coaching in the NBA. You even hold three Guinness World Records for dribbling multiple basketballs simultaneously.


Twitter lit up with support of you. 

Amanda Brooks @BrooksAD tweeted: 3 Guinness World Records & now a @ScrippsBee Champion!!!! ?? I want to be Zaila when I grow up ?? #SpellingBee

Respectfully G @grodcw tweeted: This the spelling bee champ! Sheesh she got game! Black girl magic everywhere!

Like the athlete you are, you approached your spelling bee as someone training for a championship game. Your coach was Cole Shafer-Ray, a 20-year-old Yale student and the 2015 Scripps runner-up. You practiced seven hours a day. Although you have only been in the “spelling game” for 2 years, your coach described you as an anomaly; unlike anything he had ever seen. You have an unmistakable talent for spelling- for knowledge. It is ingrained in you.

You were once quoted as saying, “I think the more that the achievements and triumphs of women are promoted and publicized, the more likely it is that other girls all around the world will see that they can do any and everything that they put their minds to.”

Young lady, you are paving the way for the women of the future. Most importantly, you are paving the way for the Black women of the future. Your hard work and determination shines brightly in your smile; you should be proud of all of your achievements. You’ve shown girls of all ages that you don’t have to be caged into just one thing- you can be good at basketball and you can be smart. You can be a good speller and you can hold a world record.

I am so proud to call you a fellow Louisiana-girl. You are setting amazing examples and doing things your way, like a true champion. Whatever you do in your future, just know that we are looking at you with pride, but with the knowledge that only you can write the story of your life. You live by your own rules- that’s easy to see, and that’s why so many of us are enamored with your talents. Whatever your future holds, just know that the world is better because you’re setting the example.

Onward, young lady. You are just getting started and we can’t wait to see what your future holds.


 Your fans

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