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Women’s History Month Spotlight: Tonza D. Ruffin

Last month, the United States celebrated the National Black History Month forcing attention to the contributions of African Americans to the country. To honor black leaders in our community and because we’re also celebrating Women’s History Month this March, OJD wanted to share more about Black Youth Defender Women in North Carolina. For this blog post, I was happy to speak with Tonza D. Ruffin and learn more about her personal and professional story.

I came up with a few questions that helped me get to know our North Carolina District 7 Chief Public Defender and I’m happy to share her answers below so you can get to know her too!

  1. If you could summarize your professional and personal life story, what would you say?

I’d say I’m a proud Black woman who has a lot of interests. I love my career as an attorney and as a newly appointed Chief Public Defender. I’m so excited for that role and the role I’ll be playing in the criminal justice system, however I’m not limited to my career.

I love to write and inspire through writing, I have a blog that I’ve maintained for years because I just enjoy writing and sharing my stories with the hopes women can connect, relate, and realize they’re not out there alone.

I love being a mom. My kids are super important to me even though they challenge me and push my buttons.

I’m a very curious person and I enjoy exploring new things.

2. Who / what inspired you to become a lawyer?

I had my first daughter when I was 19 years old. I had not finished college when she was born. I was able to finish college with the help and support of my family. I then relocated to Atlanta, GA and was working to support my daughter when I realized I had to do more. That made me do some long and hard thinking about what I really wanted in life. I decided to apply to Law School because I was always a person that was about service and with a law degree, I knew I could serve people and I’d be fulfilled in my career.


3. Is there something you’d like to highlight about your experience as a Black woman and your work as an attorney? You’re welcome to add other aspects of your life connected to these experiences. 

I must be honest and say that I feel it is more difficult for African American lawyers based on my experienced as a Black woman lawyer. I feel there is this presumption I am inadequate and not good at what I do, and I must overcome that presumption. When I see my white male or female counterparts walk into a courtroom, I often feel they are presumed to be ready and prepared to handle their case and they don’t have to overcome the burden of proving to a judge they are worthy of being there and they’re good litigators.

Instead of being defeated, I have used this presumption to inspire me to seek excellence as a litigator.


4. What advice do you have for Black people looking to start their careers or become leaders today? 

To talk to people… get to know people. Do not be afraid to have conversations and seek out mentors and ask them to be your mentors. I think a lot of times there is a disconnection between older and younger Black professionals in that the younger people either don’t feel comfortable reaching out or in some instances they feel older Black professional have nothing to offer. I also feel that some older Black professionals withhold valuable information that could help a young person thrive. We must do better as a race and work harder to bridge this gap between older and younger professionals.


5. Any favorite book, movie, mantra, or quote that has inspired you?

Although I have a lot of favorite books, mantras, movies… what stands out right now as my favorites are TEDTalks:

  • Bryan Stevenson “Capital Punishment”. In fact, I’m going to use it with my new team that’s coming on board. I love this TEDTalk because it reminds me why I chose to do the work that I do, and it also reminds me there is so much more work to be done within the criminal justice system.

  • Brené Brown “The Power of Vulnerability”. I like it as a woman and as a professional because it really helped me step into who I am as a person and be okay with being vulnerable. When I initially began my career, I felt vulnerability was a sign of weakness. You couldn’t show it and I think that it created insecurities within me. Brené Brown’s TEDTalk, gave me the strength to be openly vulnerable.

I encourage you to take this opportunity to share how proud you are of the women around you, including female colleagues, friends, and family members. If you think Tonza is as cool as I think she is and would like to connect with her on LinkedIn, click here.




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