by Jim Smilie
What an honor for the City of Alexandria to host a visit from Zaila Avant-garde, the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee winner from Harvey Louisiana.
Zaila Avant-garde is not your average 15-year-old.
The Harvey native currently holds three Guinness World Records for her basketball skills, won the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee and was named the 2021 Sports Illustrated SportsKid of the Year.
She was in Alexandria Monday afternoon as part of a statewide tour arranged by a network coalition of elected and appointed officials in Louisiana. Her tour started Monday morning in Monroe and Shreveport before wrapping up for the day in Alexandria. The tour resumes with stops in Lake Charles, Lafayette, Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Zaila noted she doesn’t see the tour as a victory lap, she is using the appearances as a way to share her story and inspire other young people to pursue academic and scholastic efforts. Zaila was the first African American to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee, and she encourages other African American youth as well as Hispanic youth to get into the world of competitive spelling reminding them that she’s just a regular kid, and if she can do it so can they.
“As you know, February is Black History Month, and today we have the opportunity to celebrate a young woman from Louisiana who has made some significant history,” noted Alexandria Mayor Jeff Hall. “When you look at the folks our young people look up to, so many times it’s athletes or performers. This young woman is standing before her peers to give them a reason to look up to scholars and those who perform well academically. That’s just tremendous.”
In addition to Mayor Hall, Rapides Parish School Superintendent Jeff Powell spoke to congratulate the teen on her accomplishments and her commitment to encouraging other youth to follow her lead in academic pursuits. Concluding the ceremony, Mayor Hall presented Zaila with a proclamation recognizing her achievements and proclaiming Monday, Feb. 21, 2022, Zaila Avant-garde Day in Alexandria.