~Tonza D. Ruffin ~ Attorney/Author/Entrepreneur Tonza D. Ruffin was not born and raised in Bertie County, but both of her parents were. She moved from New York to North Carolina in her elementary grade years, however, she returned as a high schooler, graduating from Bertie High School. Although the beautiful culture of Bertie County wasn’t entirely a part of her formative years, it certainly provided foundational footing for success. It was in the city of Windsor, NC, where she chose to start her own law practice some 18 years ago—not Anywhere Else, USA! Being a woman of diverse talents, she is in the process of narrowing her practice to focus on murder cases, while simultaneously continuing her successful writing career. Tonza is on the move with her expansive entrepreneurial goals, and she is carrying the ‘fruits’ of being a Bertie girl with her—Check out https://tonzadruffin.com/. She is Bertie Black History! We are so proud to have her!
TCV1: What community/street did you grow up in as a Bertie County youngster?
TDR1: My time in Bertie County, as a child was split between Indian Woods and Ghent Street in Windsor.
TCV2: What’s your very first thought/memory of life in Bertie?
TDR2: My earliest memories of Bertie County were when I would visit with my parents. We lived in NY but would come to Bertie County often to see family. As a child, I was fascinated with the fact that my great aunt did not have a bathroom in her home. I looked forward to going “Down South” so that I could “use the pot.” “Use the pot,” is code for pee in a pot 😊, for those that don’t know. I was also fascinated with the fact that my grandfather owned pigs and cows. I loved going with him when it was time to feed the animals.
TCV3: What age did you develop a love for Law? For writing?
TDR3: I would say that I had a love for writing well before I developed a love for law. I dreamed of being a writer as a young child. My passion for law came much later in life when I was a young mother trying to figure out how I could make a difference and provide for my daughter.
TCV4: Who were the most influential people who formed who you are—As a person? As an attorney? As a writer/entrepreneur?
TDR4: Oh, my goodness! So many people were influential in my life. My mother definitely had a huge influence. From a very early age she stressed the importance of education and knowing our history as black people. She was constantly bombarding me with historical information that I came to appreciate as a young adult. She strongly believed that I owed it to those who fought and sacrificed their lives to make something of myself and to help others.
The book, I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America had a huge influence over me. I remember going through that book every day, studying and admiring all of the women in that book and dreaming of one day being a Black Woman who made a change.
TCV5: What is your most memorable high school experience? How did it shape you?
TDR5: Attending an all-girls catholic high school in the Bronx from the 9th grade until the middle of my junior year definitely had a huge impact on me. We were a bunch of girls that were being given space to figure “it” out without the distraction of boys.
TCV6: What college(s) did you attend? Why those choices?
TDR6: The only college I wanted to attend was Hampton University, so that is the only college I applied to. Fortunately, I was accepted. Unfortunately, after my first year I understood the financial burden my education was putting on my mother. I attended a total of four colleges: Hampton U., University of Md. Eastern Shore, Temple University and East Carolina University, where I received a Bachelor’s in Political Science with a minor in Women’s Studies.
TCV7: What is one thing that college (undergrad) taught you about life?
TDR7: The importance of taking every opportunity available to me to learn new things and the importance of advocating for what I believed in. My most memorable moments were not necessarily in the classroom. They were when I marched with AIDS activists in Philadelphia, volunteered my time to organizations trying to make sure people with AIDS were receiving the care they needed, and stood outside of abortion clinics to assist young women, who were being harassed and threatened, safely enter.
TCV8: What is the most important thing that the Law School taught you about life?
TDR8: All I did was study in law school.
TCV9: What is your most proud professional accomplishments?
TDR9: –21 years of defending people who are far too often cast off by society. –Esquires for Education Inc. (a non-profit that was dedicated to increasing the number of African-American boys that attended college) –Being the author of 6 books
TCV10: What is one word that sums up your professional journey, thus far? Your personal journey?
TDR10: Professional journey: defender; Personal journey: evolving
TCV11: What are three of your greatest personal accomplishments?
TDR11: –Being a mother to three girls with very different personalities. They have taught me so much about myself and life in general. –Choosing happiness over complacency. –Deciding to pursue my passion for writing.
TCV12: What advice would you give young boys/girls that would motivate and inspire them to accomplish their goals?
TDR12: Stay away from people that try to extinguish your dreams. Never stop dreaming!
TCV13: Your favorite quote?
TDR13: Encourage and Empower. Do Not Destroy and Devour —– by Me 🙂
TCV14: Today, I am grateful for________. (One word)
TDR14: Today, I am grateful for Strength.