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Meet Karthik Nemmani, the wild card entry and the winner of the 91st Spelling Bee Champion

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Karthik Nemmani surrounded by family, holding his Championship Trophy (Photo: Scripps Spelling Bee)

WASHINGTON (Diya TV) — Spelling the word, ‘koinonia’ correctly, the wild card program beneficiary Karthik Nemmani became the 91st Spelling Bee Champion. Hailing from the town of McKinney, Texas, the 14 year-old defeated the heavily favored Naysa Modi, a four-time competitor who beat him in a Texas county bee battle earlier this year. Nemmani continues the streak of Indian American Spelling Bee Champions to 11 years in a row.

This year, there was a record number of 516 spellers, mostly because of the new wild card program. This program, RSVBee, let 238 spellers into the national bee, especially if they were from very competitive spelling areas, like Dallas, where Nemmani lives. Naysa Modi, a fellow Texan speller, won the county and regional bee and therefore eliminated spellers including Karthik Nemmani and Abhijay Kodali, who ranked third place. In addition to enabling others to qualify, this helped the Spelling Bee diversify the pool of candidates. In total, 855 applicants applied.

When asked about the fact that the wild card contestants had a $750 entry fee, Karthik’s dad, Krishna Nemmani, said, “I don’t care. I know his caliber,”
Karthik’s early life was much like other spellers. His dad said that when he was 3, Karthik arranged block letters to spell horse and won his first spelling bee at the age of 4½ years.

Karthik is from McKinney, Texas — his family moved there specifically so he could go to a school that takes part in the Scripps program. Naysa is from Frisco, less than 15 miles to the west. And third-place finisher Abhijay Kodali lives in Flower Mound, another 40 miles west.

Adam Symson, president and CEO of The E.W. Scripps Company, presented the championship trophy moments before ESPN signed off from the 91st Scripps National Spelling Bee. “Karthik showcased not only broad knowledge of the English language but also incredible poise under pressure,” said Symson. “This is a grueling competition that takes years of preparation and then challenges the participants all week long. Karthik handled it with grace and maturity. The Scripps National Spelling Bee is a national treasure, and we take great pride each year in seeing the inspiration it brings to audiences across the U.S. – and the world.”

“I didn’t really think I’d be able to do it. I had confidence that I could do it, but I honestly didn’t realistically think it could happen,” Nemmani said softly.

As the two Texans remained, Modi misspelled ‘bewusstseinslage,’ and Karthik had to spell two words correctly, including the final word koinonia, to be crowned the 2018 winner.

23 of the 41 finalists were Indian American. The last three standing were all from Texas, a major spelling area, and Indian American hub. The reoccurrence of Indian American champions has received some backlash with disparaging tweets like “we need an American to win this spelling bee #tiredofindians,”

Grace Walters, his 16 year-old coach, is the one Karthik credits for his achievement. She said to TIME Magazine that it was a lot different when she competed. Now, computers enable students to do much more. Karthik also had help from Shobna Dasari, a former competitor, and her younger brother Shourav, who finished fourth in 2017. But most of all, Karthik trained day and night, using excel spreadsheets and vocabulary quizzes.

Nemmani praised the runner-up Modi’s hard work and skill, saying, “She’s a really, really good speller. She deserved the trophy as much as I did. I got lucky.” Although he knew how to spell bewussseinslage, he humbly admitted that he did not know about eight or nine words in the finals.

Nemmani sacrificed tennis, a hobby of his, for the spelling bee. Little did he know that it would result in a championship victory & over $42,000 in prizes.

Naysa, on the other hand, accepted her loss gracefully and let everyone know she would be back.

All in all, every speller worked hard for the Spelling Bee. Nemmani, with help from the new wild card program, was able to take the title and become the 2018 Scripps National Spelling Bee champion.

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Exclusive: One on One with Sen. Kamala Harris at Impact Summit 2018

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Kamala Harris

WASHINGTON (Diya TV) — Earlier this month, more than 200 Indian American candidates, elected officials, among others gathered in Washington for the inaugural Impact Summit, an effort to build a long term political network for the diaspora. All five Indian American members of Congress spoke at this event that was sponsored in part by Diya TV. Below is a transcript of an interview conducted on site by Ravi Kapur with Democratic California Senator Kamala Harris for our public affairs program “The Public Interest,” edited for clarity.

Q: We just had the California primary and turnout was really low. Given the political environment that you see here in Washington, now in your role as a senator, do you feel that folks are just uninspired to come out to vote, no matter who the candidate is?

A: Actually, I don’t. I’ve been seeing a level of activeness and participation that actually gives me a lot of optimism about our future. I’ve been seeing young people, teenagers, middle school students who are coming out, who are thinking about issues, who are speaking about issues. You look at those kids from Parkland, Florida, high school students, and what that has excited around high school students around the country to speak up about issues like gun violence. You look at the dreamers and the DACA kids who are coming by thousands to the United States Capitol, walking the halls of Congress to speak about immigration policy. If you look at all the young people, in particular, who are coming out to talk about issues linked to disparities around race or economic disparities and inequalities.

I actually am very excited about what I have been seeing — a record number of women who are running for office, many whom have never run for office before. So I think there is something about this very difficult moment of time, which is where we are right now, where we have powerful voices that are sowing hate and division. The other side of that is activating a lot of people to say, ‘I’m not going to stand for it. I’m going to get out. I’m going to stand up. I’m going to stand up. I’m going to speak out.’ So I think it’s very exciting and the only thing I would ask everyone, and all of your viewers, is stay involved. Stay involved because your issues will not be heard if you don’t stay involved, if you don’t speak out. You can speak through your vote, you can speak through your voice, but get involved in elections, campaigns. Look up candidates, whoever speaks up to your values and your issues, but stay involved. That’s how democracy works. And we won’t be seen if we’re not heard.

Q: Speaking of involvement, you’re the first Indian American woman ever to hold a Senate seat. A lot of folks look to you for inspiration. What message do you impart to all these young folks who aspire to be where you are today?

A: That they just keep in their role of leadership, keep speaking about truths, speaking about truths, even if they are difficult to speak, even if they are difficult for people to hear because that’s how we cultivate trust. That’s how we actually forge ahead in terms of the kind of leadership we need. We need to speak difficult truths, whether it be about race, whether it be about income equality, whether it be about gender equality. Let’s speak the truth about the things we want to see happen, around the topic of immigration reform and to stay involved. It’s really important.

Q: It appears many Democrats and Republicans are not necessarily talking to each other, but rather over each other. How do we get more folks involved and engaged in politics so they are not talking over each other? Also, do you have a game plan for 2020? President Trump said he is running again and Democrats are still looking for that national leader fill the void.

A: Part of what we have to do is focus on 2018. That’s where I’m focused at the moment. I think we have to focus on 2018. The re-elections are coming soon, 152 days, I think, from today (June 7). And the decisions we make about who will be in these positions of progress, whether it be in the Senate or the House of Representatives, will be very important and pivotal to issues like what we are going to do around immigration for this country. So I really urge people to stay focused on 2018.

Watch all of the interviews from the Impact Summit on The Public Interest with Ravi Kapur, Sunday at 9 am & 5 pm local time, exclusively on Diya TV.

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New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy tightens gun control standards

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Gov. Phil Murphy signing several gun-safety bills into law in Trenton yesterday. Photo: Edwin J. Torres/Governor's Office

TRENTON, New Jersey — On Tuesday, Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law six bills that will tighten gun control in New Jersey, arguably making the state strictest on gun laws, in the country. The governor’s office issued a statement saying, more than 2,000 shootings occur annually in New Jersey, with around 500 firearm-related deaths each year. Firearm-related violence costs the state’s economy approximately $1.2 billion annually, and directly costs taxpayers nearly $275 million.

“Today, I’m proud to sign this series of common-sense gun safety bills into law to protect our children and families from the reckless dangers of gun violence, something the federal government has failed to do on behalf of its residents,” said Governor Murphy. “By setting these higher standards for gun safety, New Jersey continues to bolster its reputation as a national leader on this critical social and public health issue.”

Following which, New Jersey Attorney General, Gurbir Singh Grewal issued a statement warning ‘ghost gun’ manufacturers

The Clock Is Ticking

Ghost Gun Manufacturers: You have 15 days to stop marketing and selling these weapons into New Jersey. If you don't, we will come after you. The clock is ticking.

Posted by New Jersey Attorney General's Office on Wednesday, June 13, 2018

According to WABC-TV, New Jersey joins a list of states, including Florida and Vermont, that have enacted gun control legislation since the shooting, which set off a series of rallies across the country aimed at reducing gun violence through tighter laws.
Alfonso Calderon, a student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was on stage with Murphy, and both encouraged voters to elect candidates this fall who back “common sense” gun legislation. All U.S. House and one-third of the Senate seats will be on the ballot.

“The majority of America’s youth knows we need this change to survive in our own schools,” Calderon said.

The six measures will:

-Require mental health professionals to warn law enforcement if a patient threatens serious violence against themselves or others

-Allow for an extreme risk protective order if a court deems someone poses a significant danger to themselves or others. The temporary court order bars the subject from possessing or purchasing a firearm or ammunition.

-Require background checks for private gun sales

-Lower the magazine capacity from 15 rounds to 10, with an exception for a popular .22-caliber rifle.

-Require residents to show a “justifiable need” to get a carry permit.

-Prohibit body-armor-penetrating ammunition.

While the legislation has earned the praise of gun control advocates, including Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, who attended the bill-signing wearing bright-red T-shirts, it also has merited scorn from gun rights advocates who say the measure won’t increase safety.

“None of the bills signed today will make anyone safer,” said Scott Bach, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, said in a statement. He said lawmakers have limited residents’ ability to defend themselves while missing an opportunity to make schools safer and prevent those with mental health issues from acquiring firearms in the first place.

The group has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the limit of 10 rounds, claiming it would be ignored by “criminals and madmen.”

Hopewell Valley High School sophomores Ethan Block and Alex Franzino have been active in organizing gun control events in the region and attended the Wednesday event wearing orange shirts with “Students Demand Action” printed on them. They said they were encouraged to become active in the issue because of Parkland.

“Don’t be afraid to use your voice,” Franzino said.

Murphy, who succeeded term-limited Republican Chris Christie this year, campaigned on the promise to strengthen the state’s laws. Current state law bans assault weapons, limits magazine clip sizes and requires permits to carry a concealed weapon.

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Indian Americans political aspirants & elected officials gather at first-ever Impact Summit

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Kamala Harris

WASHINGTON (Diya TV) — More than 200 Indian Americans, who aspire to have their voices heard in American political discourse, gathered in the nation’s capitol for the first-ever Indian American Impact Summit. Featuring Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), among other elected officials and philanthropists, the summit was arranged to encourage more Indian-Americans to run for office.

“This historic summit is proof that the Indian American community has truly arrived on the political scene. Together, we can shape a future in which talented and patriotic Indian Americans are fully represented at every level of government, from City Hall to the White House,” said Impact co-founder Raj Goyle.

House Representatives Ro Khanna (D-CA 17th district), Ami Bera (D-CA 7th district), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA 7th district) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL 8th district) all attended and gave speeches to inspire the next generation of Indian American candidates. Diya TV was a proud media partner for the event.

Gautam Raghavan, Executive Director of the Indian American Impact Project, said, “There’s a lot of enthusiasm and energy (because) for the first time a lot of Indian American prospective candidates are thinking to themselves, ‘This is something I can do.'”

Cody Booker

Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) speaks out to the Indian American community at the Indian American Impact Summit 2018.

Booker, although not Indian American, gave an opening speech emphasizing why Indian Americans should go into politics. “In every area, Indian-Americans have been punching above their weight, except for one and that has been in elected officials. And it’s time that Indian-Americans came forward and provide the leadership,” Booker told the crowd. “From tech to the arts to business, Indian-American dominance is helping America, but the one area that we have to lead in is civic space for policy where ideas are being shaped.”

He added, “we so urgently need Indian American leadership — not just because of the dynamism it has brought to other sectors of American society — but also because this is a time when the very idea of America is under assault. We have a time now where Indian American pride, where Indian American strength, where Indian American ideas are critically needed.”

Harris, the first Indian-American to serve in the U.S. Senate, said Indian Americans will have a great effect on the U.S. because of the inspiration they can derive from their ancestry. “I was trying to remember what some of the slogans were when my grandfather was fighting for India’s independence… I remembered ‘truth alone triumphs,” she said. “It is imperative that to be a leader right now means that we speak (the) truth.”

Harris went on to say, “I believe we are a great country. And part of what makes us who we are is that this country was founded on certain ideas, ideals that were present when we wrote the Constitution of the US: which is that we are all equals and should be treated that way. This is a moment in time that is requiring us to fight for those ideals.”

Fostering this network for Indian Americans to build their platform from is why Impact co-founder Deepak Raj got involved. “The energy, enthusiasm, and talent of our elected officials and candidates is truly inspiring. Impact is proud to stand with them (elected officials and candidates) — and we look forward to expanding their ranks at every level of elected office.”

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