Cinzia P. Harris
Cinzia P. Harris is not one to waste time. She finished both high school and college early, and was completing her Master's Degree while many of her peers were still in undergrad. Perhaps her fire comes from her trailblazing mother, Roxboro City Councilwoman Cynthia Petty, who was the first Black woman deputy in Person County history. But Cinzia is making her own path in law enforcement and creating her own story.
Q) What was your upbringing like in Person County?
A) I grew up in Roxboro, born to Steven and Cynthia Petty. I have one sister, Stavonna Petty. I attended North Elementary School, Northern Middle School, and then Person High School, of course. I finished at Person in December of 2011 and graduated with the class of 2012.
Growing up I was heavily involved in my home church, Prospect Hill Baptist Church. I was in different organizations at the church, such as the Missionary Circle, the Usher Board, and the choirs. I also took piano lessons with Billy Farrish, who is the musician at Prospect Hill, and I played the piano for the youth choir. I’ve played and sung under Billy’s direction most of my life, up until recently when I moved my membership to Faith Temple United Holy Church to be with my husband, Austin Harris. But Billy and I are really close. He’s like a second dad to me. When I got older, I realized that I really had a passion for directing more so than piano, so Billy helped me learn how to direct choirs. He always said that I had a good ear so he would let me work with the choirs on the different vocal parts while he just focused on the music.
I think that passion and ability came from singing with my family's gospel group, The Mighty Harmonaires. And that’s really the majority of my upbringing, traveling around North Carolina and Virginia singing with my family’s group. The Mighty Harmonaires were started by my grandaddy Willie Carrington and they’ve been singing for over 50 years now. I started singing with them when I was seven, so I've been with the group for 21 years. I sing lead and background and I sing soprano, but I can hear all parts. God gifted that ability to me, of course, but I give a lot of credit to my uncle Richard Carrington, my mom’s brother. Growing up, he really taught parts so being around him and listening to him teach, I learned a lot.
Also my grandparents had a lot of influence on my upbringing. We spent a lot of time with my grandfather after school and with my grandmother who lived in South Boston, Virginia. So that's pretty much my upbringing: school, church, singing, and just being with my grandparents. I really enjoyed that.
Q) What has your educational path been like?
A) After high school, I went to North Carolina Central University and I finished up there in the Summer of 2015 with a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Criminal Justice with a concentration in law enforcement. Now that wasn’t my first choice when I went to Central. Originally, I wanted to be a pediatric dentist. But I dropped those classes and just changed my major to criminal justice. But I told my counselor that I would probably be back again at the end of the year to change my major again because I didn’t think I would stick with it. My parents are both in law enforcement, so I was very familiar with it and I felt like I didn’t want that as my career. But once I got into the criminal justice department, I loved it. Loved my classes. But I still didn’t want to be a police officer. Then one of my professors introduced me to probation and that’s the direction I decided to go in. I continued my education after college and earned a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice with a concentration in juvenile justice in May 2017.
I was a research assistant at Central when I was in grad school and I was afforded an opportunity to work on a federal grant. The research was based on substance abuse issues within the state of North Carolina, and so that was a really big milestone for me because I was able to present at two national criminal justice conferences. I was able to do a lot of networking, and so I feel that experience helped me to get to where I am now in my career.
Q) What is your career path and what are your proudest achievements?
A) I'm currently a probation/parole officer for the state of North Carolina. I supervise people who are convicted of a criminal offence in court and are placed on supervised probation for a certain period of time, as well as those who are getting out of prison and have been granted parole by the parole commission. My future goal is to move up within the Department of Public Safety, but I also really want to teach criminal justice, so I've been looking into the possibility of teaching at a community college. I’m not sure if I want to pursue a Ph. D right now but it is definitely on the table. But my goal right now is to move up in the department because I see a need within my job to be a voice, not just for parole officers but for offenders too. People forget about them.
Q) What organizations or community endeavors do you participate in?
A) So, like I said, I'm with the Mighty Harmonaires, that's my family’s group. But I also sing with another gospel group called Chosen Phaze II. That's a group of family and friends together. My cousin, Tiffany Cash, started that group when she was in high school, and I came in to fill in about ten years ago and I’ve been with them ever since. Then I'm also a member of the praise team at Faith Temple.
Q) Why is it important that women be recognized for their foundational work in our community and our nation?
A) Young ladies need to see women in positions of influence. When I went to college and I got into the criminal justice department, I feel ashamed of saying this, but one of the professors said, “Don't you think you should be a nurse?” And I sort of laughed it off, but as I’ve gotten older, I realize that I should have expressed how offended I was. And those attitudes won’t change unless women are recognized for their work and other women feel confident enough to follow them into those male dominated positions. Whether you want to be the president, a doctor, a lawyer, a manager at your job, a business owner, whatever it is, I feel like women need the recognition so young ladies can be able to see us in leadership roles and be confident that they can follow those footsteps. So I know from my own personal experience why it is needed.
Q) What do you envision for the future of Person County?
A) Growth. I feel like there's a lot of room for growth here in Person County, specifically based on the population that I work with. I think people believe that because Person County is so small, we don't need much. But just based on the people that I’m working with, we suffer from a lot in Person County, whether it’s joblessness, substance abuse issues, mental health issues, or just homelessness. I feel like we just have a lot more room for growth, particularly as it relates to things that benefit youth and young adults. And so I pray that resources come to Roxboro and to this county.
Q) What is your advice for girls and young women who look to you as motivation?
A) Don't be afraid to think outside the box. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do something. Surround yourself with people who will influence you to grow and become better. And don't be afraid to be in rooms with people who may be in higher positions than you. Go into those rooms and network and learn so that you can further yourself.