Board & Staff

Executive Committee

Mike Essien

BFA Board President Mike Essien is an intellectual property and business attorney and a Principal at Essien Law Office PLLC. In addition to supporting clients with patents, trademarks and counseling needs, he does consulting work supporting research institutions in Africa. His many achievements include being admitted to practice in the State of Minnesota, before the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and being a member of the Minnesota State Bar Association, the Ramsey County Bar Association and the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers, among others. Prior to becoming a lawyer, he worked as a product development engineer at 3M, and is named inventor on two U.S. patents. In his free time, he volunteers and serves as a board member with several organizations, including Books For Africa, and also serves as board president for the Association of Nigerian Engineers in Minnesota.

Joni Sussman
Past President

BFA Past Board President Joni Sussman is a children’s book publisher with Lerner Publishing Group, a longtime supporter of Books For Africa. She believes that books – on the African continent and throughout the world - line the pathway to a better world. With expertise in children’s publishing, as well as book production and printing, she has worked on a variety of projects for Books For Africa. A sought-after speaker on the subject of children’s literature, Joni has also served on a number of boards, including the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, where she also served as president. 

Fatima Lawson

BFA’s Board Secretary, Fatima Lawson, Ph.D. is a school principal with Saint Paul Public Schools.  She is very passionate about education, and is deeply concerned about the state of public education in Nigeria in particular and Africa as a whole.  She believes that no proper education can take place without adequate materials, such as books, which is why she dedicates her time and resources to support an organization like BFA that goes above and beyond expectations to put books in the hands of children, especially the most disenfranchised.  She also a heightened sense of social justice, access and opportunities in educational pursuits for especially women and girls. More importantly, she is a very active member of various community organizations in Minnesota and beyond, which include serving two terms on the board of the Governor’s Council on Minnesotans of African Heritage (CMAH), during which she held offices of vice-chair and treasurer respectively. She is the newly elected board chair for the Minnesota Africans United (MAU), a thriving organization that supports career and economic growth for African Immigrants in Minnesota.  She is an avid reader, debater, public speaker, and has presented in several national and international conferences.

Patrick Mandile
BFA Treasurer Patrick Mandile is the Former COO of law firm Robins Kaplan LLP, where he worked for over twenty years before retiring in 2017. Patrick has been a member of the Books For Africa Board since 2017, and also serves on the advisory board of BFA's Jack Mason Law & Democracy Initiative.  
Tom Warth

In 1988, British expatriate Tom Warth visited a library in Jinja, Uganda, where books were nearly nonexistent; the few books that remained on the shelf were tattered and decades old. Coming from the publishing industry, Tom was aware of the great surplus of books in America and set about finding a way to put those books in the hands of African learners. Tom’s vision became Books For Africa, which has since grown to be the world’s largest shipper of donated books to the African continent.

Patrick Plonski, PhD
Executive Director

Patrick Plonski has served since 2003 as Executive Director of Books For Africa. Plonski holds a PhD in International Education (2009), and previously served as Executive Director of the Minnesota Agricultural Education Leadership Council at the University of Minnesota (1998-2003), and Committee Administrator for the Minnesota House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture (1987-1998).

Board Members

Tom Gitaa
Board Member Emeritus (Ex Officio), President and Publisher, Mshale
Kojo Amoo-Gottfried
Vice President, Commercial Leader, Softseeds and Specialty Oilseeds - North America, Cargill
Matilda Arhin
President of Ghana International Chamber of Commerce
Erin Bagniewski
Eleven Twenty Consulting
Louis Brownstone
Chairman, WorldWide HealthStaff
Charlie Cogan
Strategy Consultant, Crimson Education
Stephanie Davern
National VP of Sales and Marketing, Read-a-thon and Love My Library
John Elstad
Senior Vice President, Editorial Operations, Thomson Reuters
Tammie Follett
Director, Community Relations, Thomson Reuters
Dustin Holland
President and CEO, Better World Books
Ambassador Howard Jeter
Former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria and Trustee, Sir Emeka Offor Foundation
Emma Kasiga
Senior Loan Officer - MN Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED)
Jeff LeBlanc
Co-Founder, Out of Print
Niclette Mundabi
CEO, TheLuxe Africa
Paul Musherure, DDS
Pediatric Dentist, Healthpartners
Lillian Otieno
Senior Project Consultant - Produce Safety Outreach Coordinator, Minnesota Department of Agriculture
Isaac Owens
Assistant Director - Retail (Department of Food and Nutrition Services), Hennepin County Medical Center
John Rupp
Owner, Commonwealth Properties
Gary Zelko
Board Member Ex-Officio, Publisher Emeritus, Merck & Co.

Project Directors

Lane Ayres, J.D.
Director of the Jack Mason Law & Democracy Initiative
Ambassador Frederic Edem Hegbe
Ambassador of the Republic of Togo to the U.S., Honorary Chairman, Summit Society
Lamin "Lang" Dibba
Project Manager, Million Books For The Gambia

Ambassadors Circle

Roy Austin
Libraries for Kids International
Frank Babka 
Friend of BFA
Sharon Sayles Belton
Thomson Reuters
Robert Davidson
Hey Man Productions
Genevieve Eba-Polley
Ghana Book Trust
Matt Erickson
Poet Nation Media
Ken Fitzgerald
Walker Bookstore
Kassahun Getachew
Ethiopian Knowledge & Technology Transfer Society
Kim Harms
River's Edge Dental
Pat Harris
PMA Financial Network
Michael Henley
Retired, Hansen Henley Yoder and Lamb
Abdirahman Kahin
Afro Deli
Catherine Martignacco
BFA Kilimanjaro Society
Bob Marx
Amphora Wines LLC
Catherine Mayer
BFA Kilimanjaro Society
Fotemah Mba
J.U.M.P. Cameroon
Fiona McCrae
Graywolf Press
Doris Pagelkopf
United Ways of Minnesota
Rosemond Sarpong Owens
Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Minnesota
Pam Pappas Stanoch
Athena Group International
Dianne Patrick
Friend of BFA
Mark Ritchie
Global Minnesota
Catherine Ryan
Friend of BFA
Dick Simpson
University of Illinois at Chicago
Cass Stillman
Friend of BFA
John Stacey
Course Hero
Jeffrey Sturchio
Corporate Council on Africa
Jote Taddese
Director of Diaspora Engagement
Asratie Teferra
Friend of BFA
Lawrence White
Minnesota National Guard
Melissa Young
Hey Man Productions
Nate Zhang
Taimei Technology

BFA Staff (Office)

Tailana Blaylark
Database and Development Officer
Travis Ferguson
Director of Operations
Erin Moran
Director of Development
Chelsea Rosendale
Manager of International Shipping and Logistics

BFA Staff (Warehouse)

Brad Mattson
Director of Georgia Operations
Roger Anderson
Minnesota Warehouse Manager
Eric Boykin
Georgia Warehouse
Irene Carlson
Georgia Warehouse
Nataraj Dixit
Georgia Warehouse
Jen Hale
Georgia Community Liason
James Hall
Georgia Warehouse
Anne Michalove
Georgia Warehouse
Jill Nordquist
Minnesota Warehouse
Micah Owensby
Georgia Warehouse
Ralph Pitts
Warehouse Assistant
Bruce Travis
Georgia Warehouse
Judge Washington
Georgia Warehouse
Lloyd White
Georgia Warehouse