The lessons of Zaila Avant-garde’s spelling bee win

July 12, 2021, 12:55 PM UTC
Zaila Avant-garde, new Scripps National Spelling Bee champion.

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Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Black Widow beats pandemic box-office records, women protest mandatory military heels in Ukraine, and we can all learn something from spelling champ Zaila Avant-garde. Have a fantastic Monday.

– C-H-A-M-P. Need some motivation to make the most of your week? Look no further than Zaila Avant-garde, the 14-year-old who won the Scripps National Spelling Bee last week.

As you may have seen by now, Avant-garde, an eighth-grader from Louisiana, spelled the word “murraya” (a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees) to take home the $50,000 top prize with a jubilant twirl onstage. She’s the first African-American to win the 96-year-old contest and the second-ever Black winner.

But what’s most impressive about Avant-garde isn’t her spelling feat, but the attitude she brings to it. Spelling is a side hobby for her, an activity she calls the “hors d’oeuvre” to her true “main dish”: basketball. She holds three Guinness World Records for her basketball skills: the most bounce juggles in one minute with four basketballs, the most basketball bounces in 30 seconds with four basketballs, and ties the record for most basketballs dribbled at once—six—by one person, per NPR.

We heard more from Avant-garde this weekend when she attended the 2021 ESPY Awards on Saturday. “I want to inspire everybody, especially African-Americans girls,” she said of her big moment.

The spelling champ is already doing that, reminding us that you always have the potential to achieve excellence, even at something you pick up for fun. And just because you excel at a skill doesn’t mean you have to make it your everything.

Emma Hinchliffe

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Emma Hinchliffe


- Match point. At Wimbledon this weekend, Australian Ashleigh Barty took home the women's singles title. But there was another notable moment too: Marija Cicak officiated as Novak Djokovic played Matteo Berrettini, the first time a female chair umpire served in the role at a Wimbledon men’s singles final. 

- Superhero record. Black Widow, the latest woman-fronted and directed big-budget Marvel movie, shattered pandemic-era box office records this weekend, raking in $215 million as audiences returned to theaters. The film stars Scarlett Johansson and is directed by Cate Shortland. CNET

- Judging the judges. Since President Biden took office, 77% of his 30 federal judicial picks have been women. Fifty-seven percent of those nominees or soon-to-be nominees are women of color. The 19th*

- Texas bounty hunters? Texas's new anti-abortion law is unusual; any U.S. citizen—not just the government—can sue Texas-based abortion clinics, doctors, and anyone who aids in an abortion. The legislation, set to take effect Sept. 1, opens up a kind of "abortion bounty hunting." Fortune

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: HackerRank named Debra Squyres chief customer officer. 


- Art history. Patricia Marroquin Norby is the first curator of Native American art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She's changing how the museum honors and presents Native American art and experiences, from exhibits to new land acknowledgements honoring the Lenape land the New York museum sits on. New York Times

- Gender in design. How can you make city transit systems gender-inclusive? Understanding how women travel—more often by foot and public transit compared to men's car travel—is a starting point. One urban planning professor explains the problem: "Women’s journeys are seen as optional leisure activities." CityLab

- Heels up. Ukraine is preparing for an upcoming military parade, and the country's female cadets were rehearsing for the march—in heels. Photos showing female members of the military in camouflage pants and black heels kicked off a controversy last week; women lawmakers brought heels to parliament to protest. Washington Post


How Yulia Navalnaya became Russia's real first lady Vanity Fair

Christine Baranski knows it's good to be scared New Yorker

Diaper inflation wrecks already strained family budgets in U.S. Bloomberg


"I'm standing on this stage alone, but without them I wouldn't have this award."

-Paige Bueckers, a point guard for the University of Connecticut women's basketball team, thanking the Black women in her sport and in her life. As she was named the best college athlete in women's sports at the 2021 ESPYS, she said sports media needs to celebrate Black women. 

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