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.

Tammie Follett

President Elect, Tammie Follett, is the Director of Community Relations MSP at Thomson Reuters. She brings over 25+ years of corporate, Thomson Reuters, and nonprofit leadership experience to her new role at Books For Africa. Over the years, she has visited several African countries on behalf of BFA and Africa Classroom Connection. During these visits, Tammie has met with school administrators in South Africa, the Dean of Chancellor College in Malawi, Parliamentary members and Bibliotheca Alexandra Representatives in Egypt, to discuss BFA and the receipt of books and to visit classrooms built by Africa Classroom Connection. Her interest in literacy led her to become the Executive Director of Literacy Matters Foundation in 2020 for a year and a half before returning to Thomson Reuters. Using her passion for supporting children and literacy, Tammie led Literacy Matters Foundation in scaling to meet the literacy needs of schools throughout Minnesota. Throughout the years, Tammie has held leadership roles in organizations such as Books For Africa, Tubman, TeamWomen, Jeremiah, SPARK-Y, Urban League Twin Cities, and Africa Classroom Connection. Tammie is a firm believer in Mentorship and has dedicated her time to being a Mentor for Best Prep, Byte-size Challenge, TeamWomen and Brittany’s Place. She has been awarded Team Women Member of the Year, 25 Women to Watch in Business from Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, and Business Excellence Award from the University of St. Thomas. Tammie enjoys traveling including hiking to Mt. Everest Base Camp, Kilimanjaro Summit, Patagonia, and Antarctica. She has visited over 75 countries and all 7 continents. She has a B.A. from Lawrence University, a J.D. from Hamline University School of Law, and an M.B.A from the University of St. Thomas.

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.

Stephanie Davern
Stephanie Davern has worked within the educational and fundraising space for the past 20 years. She has a passion to ensure that every child has access to and choice of great books not just in the United States, but across the globe. Stephanie works in the educational fundraising industry, where she believes that all schools should have equal access and opportunity. She is currently serving as the treasurer for Books For Africa and is excited to further the mission and end the world book famine. Stephanie holds a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Minnesota. She loves to read, cook and enjoy the outdoors.
Tom Warth

In 1988, British expatriate Tom Warth visited his friend Loy Zabasajja in Jinja, Uganda. Loy brought Tom to the local library, 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
Gary Zelko
Board Member Emeritus (Ex-Officio), Publisher Emeritus, Merck & Co.
Kojo Amoo-Gottfried
Commercial Leader, Softseeds and Specialty Oilseeds - North America, Cargill
Matilda Arhin
President, Ghana International Chamber of Commerce
Erin Bagniewski
Executive Director, Africa Strong
Nisha Botchwey
Dean, Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs
Louis Brownstone
Chairman, WorldWide HealthStaff Solutions Ltd.
Charlie Cogan
International Educator
Lamin "Lang" Dibba
Real Estate Investments
John Elstad
Thomson Reuters (Retired)
Dustin Holland
President and CEO, Better World Books
Ambassador Howard Jeter
Former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria and Trustee, Sir Emeka Offor Foundation
Niclette Mundabi
Corridor Development Manager - Africa, Moneygram International
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
Mark Ritchie
Co-Founder, Board of Directors, Minnesota USA EXPO 2027
Cass Stillman
CTC Borton Overseas
Jote Taddese
Vice President of Software Engineering, Optum Technology

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
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)

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
Dan Gaarder
Minnesota Warehouse
Jen Hale
Georgia Community Liason
James Hall
Georgia Warehouse
Burgandy Kim
Georgia Warehouse
Anne Michalove
Georgia Warehouse
Ralph Pitts
Warehouse Assistant
Bruce Travis
Georgia Warehouse
Judge Washington
Georgia Warehouse
Lloyd White
Georgia Warehouse
Alejandra Zuluaga-Brieva
Georgia Warehouse