And, at seven-years-old, she’s already traveled to Washington, D.C. where she toured the White House and met President Barack Obama.
Just who is this precocious African American girl, whose signature retro afro puffs and big, wide eyes are making her a social network sensation?
Her name is Ella B. Jenkins, and she’s an animated character created by Oakland-based artist Eve Lynne, whose mission is to get children reading.
“Education is the key to our children’s future,” said Lynne. “Reading about Ella B. and her adventures makes reading fun. It makes children want to pick up a book.”
Already ‘friends’ with hundreds of fans on social websites like Facebook and Twitter, Ella B.’s status is on the rise with the release of the first of a five-volume book series, plus the launch of her website www.ellabjenkins.com, which includes her online store, featuring ceramics and a line of apparel.
The book, ‘Ella B. Jenkins Meets President Barack Obama’ is a four-color publication with a storyline that has Ella B. winning a letter-writing contest at school. In the letter, Ella B. expresses to President Obama her concerns for her father who is serving in Iraq.
As a result of her letter Ella B. and her entire class are invited to the White House to meet President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
That’s just one facet of Ella B.’s life. Today, she’s poised to not only become an international star with her Ella B. Jenkins Project in Nairobi, Kenya, which has more than 100 women living in the Kenyan bush hand-beading the mischievous seven-year-old Ella B. Jenkins image on hand-made leather bags, necklaces, bracelets, and key chains. The proceeds from this project assist women in gaining self-sufficiency, purchasing clean water, clothing and medication, while learning the English alphabet.
While international stardom is a boon, Lynne’s main objective is for Ella B. Jenkins to be an African American role model that girls and boys of all ethnicities “can relate to”.
“Currently there is no animated character that speaks directly to African American youth,” said Lynne, a mother of one.
A former entertainment photographer who has shot everyone from Toni Braxton to Chaka Khan, Rachelle Farrell, Will Downing and Johnny Guitar Watson, Lynne said she created Ella B. over a three year period to fill a niche that was missing for children of all ages, but especially those of ethnic backgrounds.
“I want Ella B. Jenkins to have a positive influence on children across the world, despite their race,” said Lynne, who in 1997 launched and is the executive director of the non-profit, Sankofa Holistic Healing, an organization, located in Oakland, CA promotes holistic health and healing through training workshops and seminars.
According to Lynne, Ella B. Jenkins came to fruition partly due to her agoraphobia, (an anxiety disorder that can result in a fear of crowds or being outside), which required her to make a living from inside her home.
After moving into a 1906 Queen Victoria House, Lynne, who had always had a fascination with ceramics, decided to redecorate her bathroom using ceramic tiles decorated with a black character.
“Every time I would make the tile with Ella B.’s image, my friends would take her,” explained Lynne, who is self-publishing the book series. “Then, I tried mugs, dishes and some other things and she just took off. I would sell them during the holiday seasons and Ella B. Jenkins quickly became a hit.”
During Ella’s design process, Lynne’s image of what she should look like was well thought out. She not only wanted her character to be the color of chocolate, she wanted her to proudly wear afro puffs.
“When I see African American children walking home with Dora (The Explorer), Barbie or Hannah Montana, it really gets to me because none of those characters look like them,” said Lynne. “The hair thing is huge for me. I can’t stand little African American girls thinking they have to have their hair permed or get weaves and extensions. They should feel good about who they are. Ella B. Jenkins is proud of who she is. Our children have to have something that’s their own.”
Ella B. Jenkins’ edict is not only to be an energetic and encouraging example, but to also present teachable lessons delivered through a subtle educational component. At the back of each one of the Ella B. Jenkins five-volume series, there are questions for children to answer pertaining to the story they just read.
“Teachers and children alike enjoy the questions,” said Lynne. “It gives them an opportunity to reinforce everything they just read.”
“The book is truly a gem,” said Christine Da Silva, a second grade teacher in the Antioch Unified School District. “My students as well as my own daughters thoroughly enjoyed the story and the vivid illustrations. As a teacher, I love how the story tied into our social studies curriculum. It was also a great segue into letter writing, which is a second grade standard. My class loved reading about a little girl winning a contest and actually getting to meet the president. It was a great way to launch into many classroom discussions. We can’t wait for the next book in the series.”
“I’m excited about presenting Ella B. Jenkins to the world,” said Lynne. “I love her. This is my passion. She’s taking on a life of her own. I just think Ella B. Jenkins is necessary.”
ABOUT EVE LYNNE
Eve Lynne is agoraphobic, an anxiety disorder she says is “a very misunderstood condition” that results in a fear of crowds and of the outdoors. “Agoraphobia is not a choice we make, or a condition that you can blink an eye and its over,” explains Lynne, who added Ella B. Jenkins was partly born out of a need for her to make a living within her home. “In the African American community, we don’t want to talk about it or deal with it. People think that agoraphobia is a choice and that you only need to take a pill, or pray, or close your eyes and get in a car or plane and you’ll be fine. Not! This is a disease just like any other.”