By Sam P.K. Collins

On March 18, dozens of young people from District public, public charter, private, and parochial schools will converge on the Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment to compete in the 41st annual Washington Informer Spelling Bee. 

The first-place winner of the citywide bee will represent the District in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, scheduled to take place between May 28 and June 1 at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Oxon Hill, Maryland.  

More than 40 years ago, the late Dr. Calvin Rolark — along with then-Washington Informer managing editor Denise Rolark and the late Dr. Mary E. White, then supervising director of DC Public Schools’ Division of Instructional Services, Department of English — revitalized the citywide bee after The Washington Star, in its acquisition of The Washington Daily News, declined to continue sponsoring the event. 

Dr. Rolark later threatened to issue a legal injunction against Scripps in response to a rule that limited participation to students who had been sponsored by daily newspapers. In 1984, Ronald Benson-El became the first District student to compete nationally. 

In last year’s Washington Informer Spelling Bee, Charlie Palmore of St. Albans School for Boys, Reva Kelly of Washington Latin Public Charter School, and Nina Keefe of Oyster-Adams Bilingual School clinched first, second and third place, respectively. 

Charlie advanced to the 2022 Scripps National Spelling Bee, where he competed against hundreds of young people from across the United States and around the world. 

Within a matter of weeks, someone else will follow in Charlie’s footsteps and represent D.C. at the national level. Earlier this year, young people across the District competed in spelling bees at their schools. The winners of the schoolwide competitions later faced off against each other in cluster bees at THEARC. 

Schools represented at the cluster bees included: Center City Public Charter School — Brightwood Campus, Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School — Brookland Campus, Friendship Armstrong Elementary Academy, Garrison Elementary School, Walker-Jones Education Campus, St. Augustine Catholic School, and Janney Elementary School. 

After two-and-a-half days in early February, the field narrowed down to 30 students — including Kenechukwu Anikwe, a fifth grader at Garrison. 

Kenechukwu bested his opponents in the cluster bee when he correctly spelled vengeance. As he recalled to The Informer, pandemonium swept the room when judges confirmed him as one of the winners. For this scholar and graphic novel enthusiast, the road to the citywide bee was paved with flashcards, practice sessions with his parents and his aunt, and above all else, the execution of strategies that helped him stay ahead of the curve. 

“I practice…spelling a word how it’s pronounced,” Kenechukwu said. “I also tried to hide my fear by [spelling the words] as if no one is there and I’m on the stage all alone, just practicing in front of the microphone.”

Get Word In Black directly in your inbox. Subscribe today.