Zaila’s Black Girl Magic Is Not An A-N-O-M-A-L-Y: 5 Other Young Black Spelling Champs From The South

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Cana Gerald has participated in school spelling bees in kindergarten and grades four through six, before winning and advancing to her state and regional spelling bees. The 14-year-old Durham, North Carolina resident won the Duke Regional Spelling Bee in March to advance to the SNSB.

The incoming ninth-grader, who enjoys reading, playing piano, listening to K-Pop and drawing, wants to attend college to become an epidemiologist. According to her mother, Carresse Gerald, Cana sacrificed lots of fun activities to prepare for the SNSB. 

“I am extremely proud of Cana’s dedication and perseverance,” Carresse told Blavity. “I didn’t know the majority of the words and was amazed by how many she knew before she began studying and also how many she learned after studying! Cana sacrificed time to watch TV and listen to music but she gained a lot from going through the process — Cana has the world in her hands!”

While Cana admits she was nervous during the national competition, she was also proud. 

“I didn’t want to disappoint my family, friends, or myself, but I was also proud of myself because I didn’t believe I could make it that far,” Cana told Blavity. 

Cana practiced for the competition by studying the origins of words, the prefixes, suffixes and writing down the words and definitions on flash cards.

“I also had my family read the words off of the 2021 Words of Champions list so that I could verbally spell the words,” Cana said. “There were a lot of words that my family could not pronounce though so sometimes they used the Google pronunciation feature.” 

She also took great care to ensure she was respecting the origins of the words she was tasked with spelling. 

“I was most nervous about names of cities and states such as Tegucigalpa and Llullaillaco because I didn’t want to seem as though I was disrespecting their culture and home,” she said. 

To her credit, Cana’s winning word at the regional level was “Rastafarian,” the religious and political movement that began in Jamaica in the 1930s. 

Overall, she said she found preparing for the spelling bee to be a resourceful exercise, one that she can come back to later in life. 

“Being able to critically think about words and spellings will help you when you apply for college and jobs,” she told Blavity. “Knowing different words and how to spell them can also help you talk to others, and having a diverse vocabulary is very beneficial for writing essays and research papers.”

While the word, noumenon, found her tied in 139th place out of 209 spellers at the SNSB, she still left the competition elated to see another Black girl win it all. 

“I was very happy to see that another Black girl won the competition because it shows that Black girls are able to do anything and she is the first Black [American] girl to win the national spelling bee! She made history!” Cana told Blavity. 

“I want the world to know that Black girls can succeed in anything, such as becoming a national spelling bee champion, doctor, lawyer, writer, scientist, astronaut and director.”

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