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Team “Ella the Banker” seeks to build family legacy with nationwide launch of children’s book on financial literacy The first time you get to meet Team “Ella the Banker,” you get the sense you are witnessing if something pretty big. 

Ten-year-old Liam Sprinkle and his mom, Shamim Okolloh, a Little Rock-based banker, recently announced the release of their co-authored book, “Ella The Banker.” Told through the eyes of Ella, Liam’s eight-year-old sister, the story follows an elementary class on an adventure to learn about the world of banking.

 Mayor Frank Scott Jr., also a banker in a city with a hallowed reputation for its influence on the global banking scene, recently proclaimed January 9th as “Ella The Banker” Day. In his proclamation, he noted the profound impact of “Ella The Banker” extends far beyond its pages and emphasizes the importance of fostering inclusivity and diversity within the banking sector and the vital need for widespread financial literacy education in our communities. 

In a wide-ranging interview with the family trio, Shamim told Arkansas Black Vitality that “Ella the Banker” represents the possibilities for young girls to see, believe and become whatever they choose.” 

“Writing this book with my son was a way for us to share our family’s story, enhance children’s under- standing of banks while contributing to the broader goal of empowering future generations of girls to consider commercial banking,” said Shamim, the book’s co-author and vice president of community outreach of the fast-growing Encore Bank. 

The journey to get “Ella the Banker” on bookshelves nationally at online retailers like Amazon and Walmart.com started more than two years ago. Liam explained that during a local event his mom met a local publisher who encouraged the two of them to draft a book about banking. “He (the publisher) said that we should do it, so we came up with the theme of banking because of my mom’s expertise, and we decided to do a book because she knows I like stories,” said the 10-year-old author. Liam added that his first brainchild for authoring his own book began in the third grade when one of his teachers assigned Harry Potter to the class to read.

 “After reading that, I started reading a lot of other books and that’s when I decided I wanted to create my own stories to help kids like reading,” he said. 

Shamim said Liam enjoys reading nonstop. “He’ll read on his way to school. He reads on his way back from school. Even if we go to a restaurant, he’ll ask if he can take a book,” she said. “Even if we have no screen time at the house, he will more than likely be building Legos or reading a book,” she said. 

Liam also noted that his dad, Little Rock attorney Maximil- lan Sprinkle, has helped fuel his passion for reading by bolstering his computer skills and providing him with new tools to tap his budding talent. “I create a lot of stories on my computer,” he said.

 With mom’s banking skills and Liam’s love of writing, Liam and Shamim did not have to look far to find a main character for “Ella the Banker.” 

During the 90-minute interview, it is obvious that the star of “Ella the Banker” is indeed Ella. The book, the family says, was inspired by the precocious, bright-eyed first grader’s dreams of becoming a banker like her mom. The book encourages girls to consider a career in commercial banking because women, especially women of color, are often under-represented in the field. 

“This book makes me feel happy,” Ella said. “And I like all the colors and I got to be the main character and my name is on the Cover.” 

For Shamim, who was born and raised in Kenya, the experience of bringing “Ella the Banker” to life has brought the divorcee and her two children closer together. A graduate of Spelman College in Atlanta and The Clinton School of Public Service, she has transitioned from her background as a trained scientist to the nonprofit sector and now the banking industry. 

At Encore Bank, one of Arkansas’ fastest-growing community banks with assets of more than $4 billion, Shamim’s transition includes advocating for “unbanked and underbanked families” and helping “especially Black women” achieve upward economic mobility. 

Nearly five years ago, Shamim became involved in the Bank On Arkansas + coalition, which was launched in 2018 by Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and Arkansas Asset Funders Network in a push to help low-income Arkansans find banking options that limit overdraft fees and steer people away from predatory lending. The program also seeks to improve savings, build credit and reduce debt. 

The coalition has grown to more than 50 members representing banks, credit unions and community partners operating in all 75 Arkansas counties. Other supporters of the initiative include Entergy Arkansas, the Arkansas Community Foundation and the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. 

At Encore Bank, Shamim’s job covers FDIC fair lending criteria for mortgages, CRA small business loans, and financial literacy. However, the local banking executive who once had a credit score below 600 said she also now serves as a bridge between the banking community and those prospective homeowners, women and minority owned businesses needing access to capital.

“Bankers don’t bank, they do deals– and the language is different,” she said. “I’ve learned through my own observations and conversations how banks look at a deal, what my clients have as a dream and figure out a way to bridge those two together.” 

In working with her children on the book-writing project, Shamim tries to get Liam and Ella to look at “Ella the Banker” as a business with all three having equal input as part of a team.

 “So, I have to switch them to the business side of the book, especially now that it’s active and we are selling,” she said. “When we were writing, we would have to go to Barnes & Noble or somewhere else to focus and get away from chores, mom and all those other things at Home.” 

In teaching them about the business, Shamim showed the children how to open a business bank account and incorporate a business entity. Their Arkansas LLC is called “SLE LLC” which comprises each of their initials. Shamim also credited Liam with setting up and trouble shooting the software package necessary for printing the shipping labels for the project.

The enterprising team also worked with Little Rock startup impresario Benito Lubazibwa, CEO of Rock It! Lab. Through that downtown startup incubator program, the close-knit family now has office space to discuss their fledgling enterprise and gain access to other business and financial resources. All those experiences, Shamim said, have drawn the threesome closer Together.

 “They always knew me as ‘mom,’ and I’ve known them as son and daughter, but the dynamics have definitely shifted when we focus on the business,” said the proud mom. “It has been really good to experience things together – to do our photoshoots together, to be on TV together talking about the book 

“And to read together,” Ella added, finishing her mother’s thoughts. That team togetherness also included a trip back to Kenya last summer, where Liam and Ella connected with their relatives in the eastern African capital of Nairobi.The trip inspired all three of them to name the book’s main character and banker Nuru. Nuru means “bright light” in Swahili. 

That trip halfway across the world to Africa also has the Arkansas family now “thinking big” as they promote “Ella the Banker.” For example, Liam’s goal for the 56-page book distributed by Revolt Renaissance Publishing of Little Rock is to become a bestseller on the coffee table of every home in America, and then around the world.

 “I want to become the youngest New York Times bestseller because that would mean I set the record before I am 12, and I am 10 now,” said Liam, adding that “Ella the Banker” would have to sell 5,000 to 10,000 copies a week. The youngest author to hit the New York Times bestseller list was Jake Marcionette, who was 12 years old when he released his debut book, “Just Jake”, in 2014. 

For 8-year-old Ella, she’s already close to reaching her foremost goal now that her namesake and image are splashed on the book’s front cover. “I want to be famous,” said Ella, adding that the book’s illustrator Nils Britwum captured her cartoon likeness “perfectly.” 

For Shamim, “Ella the Banker” offers her family the opportunity to leave a legacy that lasts for many years, possibly decades.

“Being national is a goal for me, and as a parent, it is looking at this project in terms of legacy,” Shamim reflected. “And not just in terms of our name living forever on book- shelves, but the wealth and financial piece and being able to set up (Liam and Ella) for life in terms of royalties that pay every time a book is sold.” 

The Arkansas banker noted that one of the top children’s book bestsellers ever, The Hungry Cater- pillar, sells a copy every 30 seconds although it was first published in 1969. Currently, “Ella the Banker” is averaging about 15 book sales per week. Still, Shamin envisions sales ramping up in 2024 and sparking a new generation of Black women bankers, economists, business executives and financial gurus inspired by Ella’s journey into the world of finance. 

“Ella and her peers are eight now, but in a decade, they will be going to college,” she said. “What we have done has cleared a pathway for them to pursue a finance degree and to ensure that the commercial banking space has more diversity and has a pathway and system that works and is more inclusive and open.”

For those looking for a copy of “Ella the Banker” first published on Jan. 3, it can be purchased locally at Pyramid Arts, Books and Custom Framing and nationally online at Amazon, Walmart.com and BarnesandNoble.com. A hardcover copy of the children’s book is now $26.95, and a paperback edition is $9.95

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